Stadium POS system supplier Appetize gets $20 million in funding

Screen Shot 2016-12-22 at 12.14.36 PMAppetize, the company behind a new point-of-sale platform being used by such new stadiums as the Minnesota Vikings’ U.S. Bank Stadium and the Sacramento Kings’ Golden 1 Center, announced it had secured a $20 million funding round led by Shamrock Capital Advisors.

Oak View Group, the new stadium/technology concern from Tim Leiweke and Irving Azoff, also participated in the round, which Appetize said it will use to expand the company size and locations, adding New York and Atlanta offices to the Los Angeles-area (Playa Vista, Calif.) headquarters. In addition to supplying stadiums with their own custom point-of-sale equipment, Appetize’s platform acts as a digital middleman of sorts between mobile apps with food-ordering features, like those from VenueNext (which works with Appetize at U.S. Bank Stadium) and back-of-house systems for inventory, ordering and other analytics.

While its list of sports-venue customers is long, Appetize said it will also use the funding round to help it expand to other large public venue verticals, including theme parks, convention centers, and campus installations.

Andy Howard, a partner with Shamrock, said Appetize’s executive team has great relationships with top concession vendors, and a clear idea of how to help venues not only improve the fan experience (with shorter or faster-moving lines) but also to provide instant analytics that can allow teams or stadium operators to track concession purchases and inventory in real time.

Mobile Sports Report saw Appetize’s devices in use during a recent visit to Golden 1 Center (tech report also coming soon!) and from a quick observation it seems like the flip terminals (which rotate vertically between concession staff and customers) really seem to speed up the transaction process time. Appetize’s systems also helped the Sacramento team put together a back of house app that shows concession purchase totals in real time — an amazing tool for venue owners and operators.

Kings turn to startups Built.io, Cartogram for Golden 1 Center app development

Screenshots from new Sacramento Kings/Golden 1 Center app. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Screenshots from new Sacramento Kings/Golden 1 Center app. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

For an arena that seeks to redefine the fan experience at a large public venue, it’s somehow fitting that the Sacramento Kings have turned to startups for two of the core parts of the new stadium app for their new home, Golden 1 Center.

With a main app platform developed by stadium-newcomer Built.io and mapping features provided by Seattle-based startup Cartogram, the Kings have produced a stadium app they hope will help give fans a better game-day experience, by reducing “pain points” in areas like transit, parking and ticketing, while also providing features like concession-ordering and delivery via the app. There are also plans for a wide range of content including replays and stats, and the ability to purchase seat upgrades. Though the new Golden 1 Center is already open, the stadium-app features will likely not be fully tested until the Kings’ first regular-season opener, scheduled for Oct. 27 against the San Antonio Spurs.

And while the app is a centerpiece of the Kings’ very public campaign to tout Golden 1 Center as one of the most technologically advanced stadiums every built, to even begin to reach that title the Kings must first conquer the biggest hurdle most stadium apps have, that being just getting fans to download and use the app in the first place. Ryan Montoya, chief technical officer for the Kings, thinks the app’s focus on services will help drive adoption, especially for a brand-new place where all fans will need help finding there way there, and around once inside.

Flexibility to add more services quickly

“We wanted to build features [in the app] that were actually useful to fans,” said Montoya in a phone interview. “We wanted to push the boundaries, to remove friction and help the arena become more intuitive.”

Directions and parking / transit options

Directions and parking / transit options

Though most of the leading team- and stadium-app platforms, such as those from YinzCam or VenueNext, provide the ability to integrate third-party features, the Kings said they were seeking a more agile app platform, one that Montoya said “would provide us flexibility in real time.” For that core, the Kings turned to a company called Built.io, a San Francisco firm with experience in “assisting large organizations with digital transformations,” but no public claims to team- or venue-app developments.

Neha Sampat, co-founder and CEO of Built.io, said that since its founding in 2007, her company has a lot of experience in helping enterprise company move to cloud-based operations, moves that include support for content management and mobile-device usage.

“What the Kings are trying to do is a large-scale enterprise use case,” said Sampat in a phone interview. “There are a lot of big-data analytics and so much personalization that is dependent on data.”

Sampat said Built.io’s model of a “back end as a service” and its ability to quickly connect other programs’ APIs make it a perfect partner for the Kings, who want to expose multiple services and features through the combined Golden 1 Center/Kings app.

“When Vivek [Ranadive, Kings owner] said 2 years ago the ‘arena will check into you,’ we got excited because that was our vision,” Sampat said. Sampat compared the Kings’ ideas to services Built.io has helped deliver at other large public spaces, like connected cities and convention centers.

Ticketmaster integration

Ticketmaster integration

“The use cases are similar,” Sampat said. “If you’re at a conference, something can happen [to the event app] due to your location.”

Using the Built.io backend, the Kings have been able to add several well-known existing services to the new app, including Appetize for food ordering, and Parking Panda for parking services. There is also integration with Ticketmaster and some new “smart kiosks” from Skidata which Montoya said should be able to allow for up to 1,000 fans per hour to get into the arena, as opposed to limits of around 300 fans per hour via manual ticket-scanning techniques.

The important thing, Montoya said, is to have a backend system that allows for continuous additions to the application, a so-called “bus” theory “to allow us to integrate services seamlessly.”

Maps the way people want them

While the app certainly is pushing the envelope when it comes to functionality, perhaps the most important part of it at the start will be its wayfinding capabilities. With its intimate downtown setting — one placed right in the city center, and not surrounded by parking lots — Golden 1 Center will likely present a challenge for fans in just trying to get to and get inside the venue. Add into that the challenge for any fan simply to find their way around a brand-new facility, and you have an increased need for directions and assistance.

To help fans find their way, the Kings have built features into the app that include map-directed wayfinding to transit and to parking lots, and then into the building and to their seats. To power the wayfinding, the Kings selected Cartogram, a Seattle-based startup that uses Google Maps as its base to power maps that allow for directed searches both inside and outside buildings.

Indoor seating map

Indoor seating map

In a recent phone interview, Cartogram CEO Will Clausen said the Kings had been looking for a mapping solution that could integrate both exterior and interior views, mainly due to the aforementioned challenges of getting directions to a new stadium located in a downtown core. Having a Cartogram employee who worked previously with a Kings employee helped get Cartogram in the door, Clausen said, and now its system drives not only the wayfinding features in the app but other amenities like the ability to see how long lines are at concession stands or bathrooms.

Working closely both with Built.io as well as with the Kings’ wireless networking team, Clausen said the Cartogram software uses information both from Bluetooth beacons as well as from Wi-Fi access points to determine line lengths and wait times. While Bluetooth is great for providing granular location information for a single device, Clausen noted that while not all devices may have the app downloaded, almost all devices in a venue have Wi-Fi active, allowing the Kings’ system to detect density in local areas based on the number of devices its Wi-Fi network can see.

And while other stadium systems like the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium app have wayfinding features with live interactive maps, those maps are different than Google Maps, an app Clausen said most people know and like. Using Google Maps as its base, Clausen said, “gives end users the experience they’re used to.”

In the end, such familiarity may help the Kings’ Golden 1 Center app become more widely used than other stadium apps, which regularly trail social-media apps and email apps for most-used apps in any stadium game-day use measurements. And while relying on startups may be the team-app version of an NBA team relying on rookie players, the Kings’ Montoya is confident the new app will help the Kings deliver on their vision of an advanced fan experience.

“I think we’ve seen a transformation of what a [stadium] app is supposed to be,” Montoya said. “It’s a real evolution.”

The all-important cowbell sound feature for the app.

The all-important cowbell sound feature for the app.

For concerts -- who needs a lighter when the app can provide?

For concerts — who needs a lighter when the app can provide?

Sacramento Kings’ Golden 1 Center will use really fast fiber technology from CommScope

Fiber cabling inside the Golden 1 Center data center. Credit: CommScope / Golden 1 Center

Fiber cabling inside the Golden 1 Center data center. Credit: CommScope / Golden 1 Center

Since the Sacramento Kings are already talking about bandwidth-hogging applications like virtual reality replays for fans who visit the new Golden 1 Center, it’s perhaps no surprise that the venue will also have some of the fastest, highest capacity fiber network technology at its core.

On Tuesday, the Kings and network infrastructure provider CommScope announced that Golden 1 Center will be the first place to employ something called wideband multimode fiber, or WBMMF in the world of tech acronyms. Without getting too deep into fiber optics details it might be enough for most to know that WBMMF, a new developing standard in the cabling infrastructure world, lets you send more stuff over fewer fibers, an advancement developed mainly for the data center world but one that will also benefit places that expect to move a lot of data around, like Golden 1 Center.

Back in the old days, it was news when stadium networks upgraded to 1-gigabit per second pipes coming in to provide bandwidth. These days, many stadiums are talking multiple 10-gig pipes and even looking at 100-gig pipes (like Golden 1 Center will use from Comcast), meaning that the internal networks also need to get faster and wider to handle the never-ending increases in data use.

Golden 1 Center nears completion. Credit: Golden 1 Center

Golden 1 Center nears completion. Credit: Golden 1 Center

Before its scheduled October opening we are sure we’ll hear more about the fan-facing Wi-Fi and DAS network deployments, but it’s worthwhile to acknowledge that the underlying core network at Golden 1 Center should be able to handle data expansion for the foreseeable future thanks to the choice of the latest in fiber technology.

John Schmidt, vice president for CommScope’s Data Center solutions team, said the WBMMF products are primarily targeted at the data center market; but he also noted that with its own 6,000-square-foot data center, Golden 1 Center qualifies as the kind of place that will need the kind of future-proofing WBMMF can provide.

When the plans for Golden 1 Center were first talked about publicly, Schmidt said CommScope reached out to the Kings with a pitch about using the latest fiber technology in the core.

“It was clear they wanted something state of the art, with a great fan [network] experience,” Schmidt said. “We told them we could help with the physical layer, to support the bandwidth they would need.”

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Golden State Warriors’ Wi-Fi network lease part of planned SignalShare assets auction

Screen shot of nGage Fan Feed. Credit: SignalShare

Screen shot of nGage Fan Feed. Credit: SignalShare

The contract covering the operation of the Wi-Fi network at the Golden State Warriors’ Oracle Arena is up for auction, as part of the fallout from a lawsuit involving alleged fraudulent business practices by Wi-Fi deployment concern SignalShare.

UPDATE, 7/7/16: According to the auctioneers, the auction is currently postponed, due to their claims of a bankruptcy filing by SignalShare. More details as we learn more.

SignalShare, which has installed and operated Wi-Fi networks in a number of large sports venues, including arenas used by the Detroit Red Wings, the Houston Rockets, the Sacramento Kings, the University of Maryland and others, is being sued for $7.8 million by NFS Leasing, an equipment leasing company, over a dispute involving allegedly fraudulent leases by SignalShare and SignalShare’s default on an agreement to pay back money obtained through those leases. As part of the ongoing legal proceedings, NFS has apparently scheduled an auction of SignalShare assets it claims, including leases, software code and hardware, for July 14 through Paul E. Saperstein Co., Inc.

So far, Mobile Sports Report has not been able to get any comments on the lawsuit or the auction from SignalShare, NFS, or any of the venues where SignalShare had installed networks. According to the auction site, NFS will make available for auction the contracts between SignalShare and the following list of teams and venues: The Golden State Warriors and Oracle Arena; the Carolina Hurricanes and PNC Arena; the Houston Rockets and Toyota Center Arena; the Detroit Red Wings and Joe Louis Arena; the Jacksonville Jaguars and Everbank Field; the Milwaukee Bucks and Brady Harris Arena; and the Las Vegas Sands Convention Center.

According to sources familiar with some of the SignalShare deals, some of the networks were run under a lease agreement, where the team or venue owners paid SignalShare a monthly fee for operation of the Wi-Fi network, with SignalShare retaining ownership of the actual equipment. According to legal documents filed in the case, NFS provided the financing for many of the existing SignalShare deals, as well as millions more in financing for deals NFS claims never actually existed. So far, there has been no public accounting for where the millions provided by NFS for the allegedly fraudulent leases ended up.

Live-Fi code also up for auction

While the leases are potentially interesting to many possible parties — firms who could take over the network operations, or who might be interested in purchasing the leased equipment — the asset with perhaps the most tangible worth is SignalShare’s “Live-Fi” software, a kind of customer portal program meant to help teams and venues engage more closely with fans and to also facilitate advertising sales. According to legal documents filed in the case, SignalShare owners apparently attempted to transfer the ownership of the Live-Fi code to a subsidiary firm to apparently keep it out of any claim proceedings, a move that was recently blocked when the courts granted an injunction requested by NFS.

Aside from whatever happens in the ongoing legal case and at the auction, for the venues involved the bigger question is more likely what happens to their existing or planned networks. In several of the mentioned deals, including the Jaguars, the University of Maryland and the Detroit Red Wings, SignalShare publicly partnered with Wi-Fi gear provider Extreme Networks; Extreme representatives declined to comment on any specifics of the SignalShare lawsuit.

One common trait shared by several of the SignalShare deals was that they involved Wi-Fi networks at arenas that were scheduled to be replaced or abandoned by the teams in the near future — the Warriors, Kings and Red Wings are all already building or planning to build new stadiums. The SignalShare “leasing” model may have seemed more attractive than spending the potentially millions in upfront costs for a network that may only have been used for a few years. The only thing for sure now is that the future of Wi-Fi at the venues mentioned seems to be on hold until the legal questions around SignalShare’s operations are answered.

Cuban: Fans shouldn’t look at phones ‘while the ball is in the air’

Mark Cuban during CES panel. All photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Mark Cuban during CES panel. All photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

LAS VEGAS, CES 2016 — On the subject of wireless technology inside stadiums, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is historically painted as an anti-tech crusader, based on an old story that has become more myth than truth, especially in the stadium-tech marketplace. Thursday at CES, Cuban clarified his thinking on wireless technology use during sports events, with a very clear nuance that shows the deep thinking that makes him a popular analyzer on numerous topics.

Cuban, maybe known better now outside the sports world for his reality/investment TV show Shark Tank, clarified his thinking on in-stadium wireless use during a panel discussion that was part of a special sports/tech series here hosted by Turner Sports. Since his team’s stadium has a robust Wi-Fi network, Cuban clearly isn’t against good connectivity anymore, and said Thursday that during breaks in game action, wireless technology should help fans do as much as possible to ease the game-day experience.

But when the “ball is in the air,” Cuban said, he still thinks fans should put phones back in their pockets or purses.

“Anytime I see someone looking at a phone [during play] I feel like we lose a little bit of them,” Cuban said. “Technology can work against you in an arena. You have to be very careful that you don’t do anything that will take the game away.”

Shaq greets fans after panel

Shaq greets fans after panel

Using tech to take away pain points

To be sure, wireless technology is only going to increase in NBA arenas, especially when the Sacramento Kings’ new Golden 1 Center opens this fall with one of the most-dense Wi-Fi deployments in any arena. Fellow panelist Shaquille O’Neal waxed eloquently about the Kings’ planned use of wireless technology to support wireless ticketing and marketing integration, all for the benefit of the fan experience.

In an earlier panel, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said league teams “have done a great job” making sure the connectivity inside arenas is a similar experience to “what people get at home.” But even with enough bandwidth to watch the game live at courtside on a phone, almost all of the panelists Thursday were in agreement that the live game experience would still remain wildly popular, even as technologies like virtual reality and on-player cameras make the TV experience that much better.

“People still crave the ability to be around other people,” said Silver, who called sports stadiums “the modern town hall” while noting that NBA season ticket sales were currently at all-time highs. Vivek Ranadive, owner of the Sacramento Kings, said during another panel that live streaming video and other over-the-top Internet experiences only serve to make the live game attendance that much more attractive.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver

NBA commissioner Adam Silver

“Only 18,000 people can come to the stadium,” said Ranadive, noting the capacity of the Golden 1 Center, slated to open for the 2016-17 season. The streaming video and social media outreach by the team, he said, “drives demand for the in-stadium experience.”

And that’s an experience, Cuban said, that simply can’t be duplicated at home, no matter how big a screen or how comfortable a couch.

“When the outcome of a game is hanging on a shot, if you’re there you’re holding your breath while the ball is in the air,” Cuban said. One fan told Cuban that he “did a big tree hug” on a total stranger after a recent last-second win by the Mavericks. “You’re not going to do that with some stranger in your living room,” Cuban said. “The energy you feel [in the stadium] is the most valuable part of the product we own.”

Ruckus, DAS Group Professionals, CommScope and Brocade all part of Sacramento Kings’ new tech-forward stadium

Golden 1 Center in Sacramento taking shape earlier this summer. All photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

Golden 1 Center in Sacramento taking shape earlier this summer. All photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

Thursday morning at CES here in Las Vegas Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadive is scheduled to speak and will no doubt tell the CES attendees about the Kings’ new stadium, the Golden 1 Center, and about how tech-loaded it is by design. But Wednesday night details emerged about the vendors helping the Kings with their extensive wireless deployment, and the list includes Ruckus Wireless, DAS Group Professionals, Brocade and CommScope, among others.

As previously reported by Mobile Sports Report, Ruckus gear will be used in the Wi-Fi deployment not just at the 17,500-seat Golden 1 Center, but also in the surrounding area, which is supposed to include a new public plaza and other developments, including hotel, office, housing and retail space. In the press announcement of all the tech underpinnings the Kings do not state exactly how many Wi-Fi APs will be in the stadium proper but instead say that there will be “more than 1,000” APs in both the stadium and surrounding plaza and developments. UPDATE, 1/10/16: The Kings have responded to clarify, saying there isn’t yet an exact AP count but density is expected to be in the area of one AP per 15 seats, which would put the final total well over 1,000 APs and easily be the most APs for a Wi-Fi deployment in any basketball/hockey arena we know of, and perhaps the most dense of any sporting venue (for now).

Since we’re nit-picking we’ll also question the Kings’ claim that Golden 1 Center will be “the first arena in the world to implement wide-band, multimode fiber technology” on the backbone, a curious claim since the fiber-based network at Texas A&M’s Kyle Field is already operational (and working quite well). UPDATE, 1/10/16: The Kings have responded and say that their implementation differs from Texas A&M’s passive optical network; we will provide further details and comparisons in the near future.

The DGP team at Levi's Stadium for a summer interview included, L to R, Derek Cotton, director of engineering; Steve Dutto, president; and Vince Gamick, VP and COO. These guys are probably smiling again now that DGP will be part of the Golden 1 Center deployment.

The DGP team at Levi’s Stadium for a summer interview included, L to R, Derek Cotton, director of engineering; Steve Dutto, president; and Vince Gamick, VP and COO. These guys are probably smiling again now that DGP will be part of the Golden 1 Center deployment.

Frothy claims aside, we are very interested in hearing more about the venue’s tech underpinnings, especially the combined DAS/small cell deployment being installed by DAS Group Professionals, the builders of the DAS network at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. According to the Kings’ release wireless powerhouse CommScope will be part of the infrastructure as well (along with bandwidth provider Comcast, a deal that was announced last month), and network backbone gear provider Brocade will also be involved, making Golden 1 Center a mini-me kind of version of Levi’s Stadium, where Comcast, Brocade and DGP are all also involved. (This is also not so surprising since we have heard rumors that the Kings hired some IT folks who previously worked on the Levi’s Stadium deployment.)

If there is an outlier to the deal it’s the Wi-Fi presence of Ruckus, which has had a tough year when it comes to potential stadium deployments. First Ruckus had a deal for Wi-Fi at the new San Jose Earthquakes soccer stadium but lost that when Avaya booted Ruckus off the pitch by purchasing naming rights to now-Avaya Stadium for $20 million. More recently, Ruckus was part of an initial winning bid with integrator 5 Bars for the Wi-Fi deployment at Houston’s NRG Stadium, but was replaced at the last minute by Extreme Networks to unspecified and unconfirmed pressure, most likely by the NFL. On the plus side, Ruckus gear was used for the Wi-Fi deployment at Angels Stadium in Anaheim, as well as at Indian Wells Tennis Garden, site of the big spring pro tennis tourney.

We will try to fill in more blanks and details during Ranadive’s appearance Thursday (like who will be designing the team app, which we are guessing might be VenueNext), but the real proof of the Golden 1 pudding won’t come until October, since you never can tell how a stadium network will work until it’s turned on for a full house of device-holding fans. That’s why we don’t put much stock in theoretical claims, like the Kings’ ridiculous promise that the network can handle “over 500,000 Snapchat posts per second” — that’s some fast fingers for a full house of 17,500, no? When it comes to feeds and speeds we are firmly in the show-me house, so we hope the Kings and Golden 1 Center will be as open with their real-world statistics come next fall as they are with press-release superlatives now.