Introducing: The VENUE DISPLAY REPORT!

Mobile Sports Report is pleased to announce our latest editorial endeavor, the VENUE DISPLAY REPORT!

A new vertical-specific offering of MSR’s existing STADIUM TECH REPORT series, the VENUE DISPLAY REPORT series will focus on telling the stories of successful venue display technology deployments and the business opportunities these deployments enable. No registration or email address required — just click on the image below and start reading!

Like its sibling Stadium Tech Report series, the Venue Display Report series will offer valuable information about cutting-edge deployments that venue owners and operators can use to inform their own plans for advanced digital-display strategies.

Our reporting and analysis will be similar to that found in our popular STR series, with stadium and venue visits to see the display technology in action, and interviews and analysis with thought leaders to help readers better inform their upcoming technology purchasing decisions. And in case you are new to the MSR world, rest assured that all our VDR reports will be editorially objective, done in the old-school way of real reporting. We do not accept paid content and do not pick profiles based on any sponsorship or advertising arrangements.

Our inaugural issue contains profiles of a new concourse display strategy at the San Jose Sharks’ SAP Center, powered by new LED screens from Daktronics and the Cisco Vision IPTV digital display management system; a look at the Utah Jazz’s decision to use Samsung’s system-on-a-chip displays at Vivint Smart Home Arena; and the San Francisco 49ers’ decision to use Cisco Vision to control displays at Levi’s Stadium.

Start reading the first issue now! No download or registration necessary.

As venues seek to improve fan engagement and increase sponsor activation, display technology offers powerful new ways to improve the in-stadium fan experience. While these topics are of prime interest to many of our long-term audience of stadium tech professionals, we suggest that you share the link with colleagues on the marketing and advertising sales side of the house, as they will likely find great interest in the ROI enabled by strategic display system deployments.

Sponsorship spots are currently available for future VDR series reports; please contact Paul at kaps at mobilesportsreport.com for media kit information.

Impressive renovation makes Atlanta Hawks’ State Farm Arena feel ‘new’ again

Atlanta’s State Farm Arena, the venue formerly known as Philips Arena, feels like a new NBA arena thanks to an extensive remodel. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

From the outside looking in, it’s hard to tell what has changed besides the name on the building that is the Atlanta Hawks’ home.

But once inside the doors, the venue formerly known as Philips Arena has pretty much disappeared, with full-scale knockdown remodels, finishing touches and high-definition Wi-Fi making the newly named State Farm Arena feel like something just-built from the ground up.

“If you’re just driving by, you don’t see any changes,” said Marcus Wasdin, chief information officer for the Atlanta Hawks and State Farm Arena. Even the subway signage and a map in the attached CNN Center still call the basketball arena by its old name, not adequately preparing visitors (especially media in town for this Sunday’s Super Bowl) for the $200 million makeover that’s now finished inside.

While those who’d been there previously might have a hard time believing their eyes, even first-time visitors to the hoops venue in downtown Atlanta can be suitably impressed, as the fan-facing structural improvements — including a number of different premium seating and club spaces, as well as open-air concourses surrounding main seating areas — put the newly named arena on a service par with any brand-new facilities that have opened recently.

Throw in a high-definition Wi-Fi network added by Comcast Business’ emerging sports-arena division, using Cisco gear and design and deployment by AmpThink, as well as a solid DAS operated by Boingo, and you have a complete modern fan-experience setting for Hawks followers to enjoy as they await to see if new stars like rookie Trae Young can lift the Hawks into NBA title contention.

Ripping out the concrete

Editor’s note: This profile is from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, an in-depth look at successful deployments of stadium technology. Included with this report is a profile of the new game-day digital fan engagement strategy at Texas A&M, as well as a profile of Wi-Fi at Merceds-Benz Stadium, home of this week’s Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY now!

New trusses were needed to support the new Samsung center-hung video board.

“We call it a new arena under the old roof,” said Wasdin, our host for a stadium tour as well as full-area access to a packed-arena game against the defending world champion Golden State Warriors on Dec. 3. Since Mobile Sports Report had never been to a live event in the venue when it was known as Philips Arena (State Farm agreed to take over as sponsor this summer, with the name change in time for the new season and the stadium re-opening), we didn’t have any old memories to compare it to. But photos from the past show a much different arena, with one side an entire flat wall of suites, a construction strategy popular back in 1999, when the arena opened.

Fast forward to 2018, and visitors to the 17,600-seat arena will find all the cool new things that are popular with today’s fans, like expanded club areas and open spaces where fans can mingle with a view of the court. The renovation also added a wide mixture of premium seating and club spaces above and beyond the old staple of the corporate suite.

Following preliminary activities to get set for the renovation the previous two years, the arena fully closed this past April, with heavy construction machinery in as soon as the fans left. According to Wasdin, some 300 tons of concrete were taken out of the building, opening up spaces for the new, creative architectural ideas.

Why didn’t the Hawks just knock the building down and start anew, like their NFL neighbors next door did? According to Wasdin, the estimated cost at knocking down and building a new structure was in the neighborhood of $550 million — but by keeping the foundations and outside structure and only renovating the insides (including adding a new support truss overhead for the distinctive center-hung video board from Samsung’s Prismview), the Hawks got the equivalent of a new venue for less than half the cost, in the neighborhood of $200 million.

“We call it a new arena under the same roof,” Wasdin said.

Fast wireless and multiple hospitality options

We started our pregame tour at one of the stadium’s innovative club spaces, a stand-up Altanta Hawks logo bar at court level, just behind one of the backboards. Fans who have courtside seats as well as some of the lower-bowl seats can wander there during the game, as well as to a hospitality area just under the stands where amenities like a pizza oven are part of the all-inclusive charge.

A lower-bowl Wi-Fi enclosure

During pregame shootarounds we sat in the lower-bowl seating area, which is covered by Wi-Fi APs in an under-seat deployment. According to AmpThink, there are approximately 480 total APs in the new Wi-Fi network. As the seats were filling up to watch Golden State’s Stephen Curry in his mesmerizing pregame shooting routine, we got a Wi-Fi speedtest of 31.3 Mbps on the download and 41.6 Mbps on the upload. A cellular speedtest on the Verizon network in the same place checked in at 33.7 Mbps / 6.43 Mbps; the DAS antennas for the lower bowl seats are inside railing enclosures. In the upper seating sections, both Wi-Fi and DAS use overhead mounts for antennas.

Other premium-seat options include access to clubs under the stands on both long sides of the court. On one side, a sports-bar theme has touches like tables made from the hardwood used for last year’s court; that club also includes a seating area that opens to the hallway used by players getting from the locker room to the court, an amenity that lets fans high-five the players as they pass by (Sacramento and Milwaukee have similar premium club spaces with the same interactive idea).

As you might guess, the premium club areas are well-covered by wireless. In the sports-bar “Players Club” we got a Wi-Fi test of 59.6 Mbps / 69.1 Mbps and a cellular test of 67.1 Mbps / 32.9 Mbps at just about 45 minutes before tipoff, as fans watched other basketball action on a humongous two-panel flat-screen display behind the bar, more screens from PrismView installed by display integrator Vitec.

Up in the main level concourse, which Wasdin said used to feel more like a concrete tunnel, the open-air concessions area (with stands along the wall as well as in the middle of the space) saw a Wi-Fi test of 20.4 Mbps / 61.4 Mbps, even as thick crowds of fans streamed by. On an escalator up to the second level and the “Atlanta Social Club” premium area, we got a Wi-Fi mark of 30.8 Mbps / 46.9 Mbps.

A very Atlanta feel to premium spaces and suites

We spent part of the game watching from some comfy-chair seats that are one of the options in the “Social Club” premium area, which is backstopped by a large all-inclusive food and drink area with several dining and bar options. Other premium seating choices include “cabana” suites, where couches and tables in the back of an open-air area lead through a passage to courtside seating. Just below that level are four-top tables with high bar-chair seating, an arrangement popular at new venues like Atlanta’s SunTrust Park. A bit lower down are the comfy-chair seats, a range of choices that gives the Hawks the ability to reach a wider audience of smaller groups who are still looking for an above-average experience.

A DAS railing enclosure

And yes, the wireless in this area is solid as well, with a Wi-Fi test of 46.4 Mbps / 60.2 Mbps, back in the bar area just before tipoff. On the other side of the court are the more traditional suites, with the lower-level “veranda” suites offering a back room as well as a courtside seating area that is unique in that it’s open on top. Above that level is the loft-suite row, smaller spaces with a shared all-inclusive food and beverage area in the back.

In and around the suite level there are other premium finish touches, like acoustic wood paneling to help make State Farm Arena a more friendly venue for music acts. AmpThink’s commitment to aesthetics was visible (or invisible, unless you were looking for it) in places like the veranda suites, where a custom enclosure that fit flush to the outside wall allowed a two-radio Cisco AP to broadcast one way out to the seats, and on the other side, back into the enclosed area.

“Food and connectivity were two of the things we really wanted to fix,” said Wasdin about the renovation. On the food side, local dining choices are available throughout the arena, with artisan pizza, barbecue and even a bar/grill area run by local recording star Zac Brown.

On the connectivity side, Wasdin said the Hawks were impressed by the integration work previously done by the fairly new sports-arena division inside Comcast Business, especially at nearby SunTrust Park and at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, experience that led the Hawks to pick Comcast as their lead technology integrator.

“Comcast brought in AmpThink and there could not be better partnering,” Wasdin said. As always in construction projects, the tech deployment had to work around the unforeseen but inevitable hurdles and delays, but the networks were ready to go when the building re-opened in late October. (The networks will likely get a good stress test this week as State Farm Arena serves as the media headquarters for Super Bowl LIII, taking place on Feb. 3 next door at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.)

“We’re pretty pleased with how well the networks are working,” said Wasdin. Both Comcast and AmpThink, he said, “lived up to their track records.”

A look from above at the new courtside club space

And here’s what the court looks like from that same club space

Stephen Curry doesn’t miss many shots. This was a swish

Samsung video walls in one club space

Fried chicken and a Wi-Fi enclosure

Wi-Fi antennas covering the upper seating deck

Will cellular carrier aggregation matter in stadium networks?

Kauffman Stadium during 2015 World Series

Kauffman Stadium during 2015 World Series

Over the past few days, both Sprint and Verizon Wireless have made announcements about a technique called “carrier aggregation” (CA for short) for LTE cell networks that basically bonds together different frequency channels to bring more bandwidth to a mobile device. Though the premise sounds great, what we here at MSR HQ haven’t been able to ascertain yet is whether or not this technique will help solve the biggest problem in stadium network situations, namely providing enough capacity for users on the networks installed there.

Sprint has made the most noise this week, with claims of CA demonstrations at Soldier Field in Chicago and Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium that (they said) showed Sprint devices bonding three different frequency channels to hit download speeds of 230 Mbps, a score way off the charts for any existing stadium networks. (The fastest Wi-Fi and cellular speeds we’ve seen in our short history of stadium tests, by comparison, are in the 60 Mpbs range.) Verizon made a similar announcement about CA being put in across its network, without specifying if the service would be available in stadiums. Other carriers, including AT&T and T-Mobile, are also exploring use of the CA technique. At the very least, some lucky users with newer devices may see leaps in performance thanks to CA deployments, a good thing on any level.

But our bigger question — which hasn’t been answered in the press releases and hasn’t (yet) been answered in email questions to Sprint or Verizon — is whether or not CA will help with overall network capacity, which to us seems to be a more pressing problem at most stadiums as opposed to simple download speeds. I mean, demos are great and it’s cool to see what the upper limits are for one device; but it’d be more impressive if Sprint could guarantee that 230 Mbps mark to every device in the park, should everyone there have a Sprint phone with the capability to perform the CA trick (not all devices in the market today can do so).

Finally using the Clearwire spectrum

What’s also not completely revealed in the press releases is what kind of gear is necessary on the back end of the network to make CA work, and whether or not it makes economic sense to have that gear placed inside stadiums to enable the technique for as many fans as possible. While we understand the basic premise probably better than most (since in a former life yours truly spent several years following and analyzing the Clearwire spectrum holdings at 2.5 GHz) it’s not clear if CA solves any congestion problems, especially for carriers other than Sprint, who only have a limited amount of licensed spectrum in each market they serve.

(Without getting too deep into spectrum geekiness, Sprint on paper probably has more room to grow in the CA space since its 2.5 GHz holdings dwarf other carriers’ licensed bands; but to make use of that spectrum, you need customers with devices that can use that spectrum, and enough cash for a wide network buildout, both of which Sprint may be challenged to find.)

As we understand CA, by bonding channels you can make one device faster since it has more aggregate bandwidth to work with. But it’s not clear that using CA in a stadium environment would make the overall situation any faster than say, three phones using single channels by themselves. Also, since you can’t create new bandwidth, if one phone starts tapping three different channels doesn’t that actually leave less room for other devices that may want to also use those channels? Perhaps with CA the connections would be faster and wouldn’t last as long, thereby freeing up spectrum for other devices; again, there’s not a lot of information yet on the capacity side of the equation, especially in crowded stadiums or at big events where bandwidth needs escalate. If there are any cellular wizards in the audience with more knowledge of the situation, feel free to chime in.

We did get an email response from our old friend John Saw, formerly of Clearwire and now chief technical officer at Sprint. Here’s his explanation of why CA is a good thing for stadiums:

Essentially, sites with bonded channels will drive higher capacities. This will be especially timely and helpful in crowded spaces like Soldier Field where there are surges in capacity demand during live sporting events. Sprint customers with CA enabled phones will enjoy 2X (in the case of 2CA) or 3X (in the case of 3CA) their download speeds, which means that they will get a better data experience with a bigger pipe. But wait – CA will lift all boats and it will also benefit those Sprint customers who have not upgraded to CA enabled phones yet. While they may not enjoy the higher peak speeds enabled by CA phones, their phones will have access to more network resources which means they will also have a better data experience, with no stalling or without that dreaded “windmill effect” in a crowded stadium.

I kind of understand what Saw is talking about here, but I am still having a problem with the math that says all boats will be lifted through the use of CA. Plus, experience and interviews have taught us that across the country, Sprint is behind Verizon and AT&T when it comes to DAS deployments inside stadiums; and, it’s not clear (and hasn’t been answered) whether or not CA can work over a neutral-host DAS deployment where carriers share antennas and other infrastructure.

From an industry-wide standpoint, CA seems like a great thing for all cell phone users since as it progresses devices should be able to utilize whatever bandwidth is around to make performance better. It’s also good to see more technology advancements made on the network side of things, since infrastructure needs all the help it can get to keep up with devices. But right now, we’re not sure if CA is the answer to any of the capacity problems stadium network operators face. Anyone with views that can expand the explanation, feel free to hit the comments section below or send me an email to kaps at mobilesportsreport.com.

Virtual Reality and sports stadiums: What will fans see?

Why are stadiums testing out virtual reality (VR) technology for fans, and what is the goal of giving event attendees a “virtual” experience to go along with the one they’re getting in person? Episode 6 of the Stadium Tech Report Podcast takes a look at VR use in stadiums, with hosts Phil Harvey and Paul Kapustka breaking down the reasons behind the trials, and whether or not VR will succeed or flop in stadium situations. Listen now!

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Here is the link to the podcast on iTunes!

Please let us know what you think of the podcast in the comments below!

Google seeks to expand ‘wearable’ options with Android Wear program

The Moto 360 Android

The Moto 360 Android

Google made a lot of noise a few years back with its push for Google Glass project, a pair of glasses that are connected to the Internet and now it is adding a second front in the wearable war with a push that it calls Android Wear.

The company has launched the Android Wear project in an effort to greatly expand the market for wearable hardware and related technology, with but not limited to helping a new generation watches running the company’s Android operating system.

The core of the effort will be a Software Developers Kit (SDK) that the company will be delivering to interested developers later this year.

While connected watches seem to be the first area that this effort will have an impact Google sees the effort expanding into other areas including bringing additional technology to more established platforms such as tablets.

However watches seem to be at the forefront of this space and potential developers that include everybody from Nike to Apple have indicated some level of interest in developing a watch. In addition there are already several connected watches on the market such as the Samsung Galaxy Gear and Pebble’s Steel Watch. Google has a number that have now announced their intention. With such a huge position in the smartphone operating system already Google has a huge advantage and it looks to be building on it quite quickly.

Several partners have already announced intentions to build watches and in some cases have shown examples of their development efforts. Motorola, unsurprisingly, has one in development called the Moto 360 Android that it said will be available this summer while LG Electronics said it would introduce its first Android watch, the G Watch, sometime this quarter.

The watches will be equipped with a variety of sensors and the ability to connect to an Android phone. So it can sub for the fitness trackers that are popular with the athletically inclined. It will allow notifications and text messages to be forwarded from a user’s phone and enable voice replies.

I imagine it would be a great tool to use to cheat on exams, but that might just be me. However being in a meeting and getting, say, March Madness game updates, could be a boon for those times when it is frowned upon to look at your smartphone. However the flip side of this is that many, at least those of us old enough, might just see this as a glorified pager with a bit more functionality.

Friday Grab Bag: MLB to live stream World Series

Taking its digital game up a notch MLB’s Advanced Media has announced that it will start permitting subscribers to its MLB.TV using its At Bat app to watch both the All-Star game as well as well as the entire World Series on their registered mobile devices and computers.

The games will be broadcast over the air by Fox Sports and some details still need to be worked out as Fox’s broadcast partners will be involved in some manner in the vetting process. Still this is a great move by MLB opening up the games to more viewers. Think it will go back to day games for the Series? Me neither.

Samsung teams with Mandalay Sports Media on second screen content
Samsung Electronics America will be working with Mandalay to develop new and original second screen content that will then be made available on select Samsung products. The content will be built around Samsung’s Automatic Content Recognition (ACR) technology platform to enable complementary and supplementary content experiences for TV programming.

The programs will initially be distributed on Samsung’s 2012, 2013 and 2014 Smart TVs as well as select tablets and smartphones. No word yet on what types of shows will be developed under the program.

NFL to add two more playoff teams in 2015?
The NFL has hinted that it is looking at adding additional playoff teams in the future because, well the owners will make more money. The rumors appear to be picking up steam and the Washington Post has reported that it will happen in 2 years.

This is interesting in that in the last postseason the league had issues selling playoff tickets and the addition of more teams will dilute the value of the regular season and possible create even more issues in selling playoff tickets.

ESPN talks about ESPN
There used to be an adage in reporting that “You reported the news, you are not part of the news.” Well that message has never sunk in at ESPN as the latest round robin of repeating itself has taken on comic qualities.

After one of its analysts reported that he would not take Johnny Manziel as a QB for his team, ESPN’s talking heads then discussed this comment endlessly for the next day or so. Awful Announcing does a great job in dissecting how much coverage the network gave to a comment made by one of its own people.