Strong showing for Wi-Fi network at SunTrust Park

The Atlanta Braves’ new home, SunTrust Park. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

After speaking with the Atlanta Braves via phone about their new home, SunTrust Park, we couldn’t wait for our recent visit to Atlanta for the SEAT 2017 Conference. Thanks to a personal tour hosted by Greg Gatti, senior director of information technology for the Braves, Mobile Sports Report got an up-close look at not just the new park’s excellent wireless networks but also its impressive innovations in seating spaces and other amenities that should keep Braves fans and visitors (like the numerous Cubs fans in attendance this week) happy for the foreseeable future.

Any doubts about whether the network reports were too optimistic were quickly laid to rest the first moment we took a Wi-Fi speedtest. While waiting outside the main right-field gate of SunTrust we got a Wi-Fi speed reading of 96 Mbps on the download and 136 Mbps for the upload, a level of connectivity we would see often during our visit. In addition to the ballpark the Braves also built the surrounding mixed-use neighborhood, called The Battery Atlanta, a mix of office space, mall-like retail and residences, a sort of instant neighborhood with superb connectivity at its core.

Both before and after our stadium tour MSR walked around the Battery, getting speed tests anywhere between 40 Mbps and 140 Mbps, depending usually how close you were to any of the numerous Wi-Fi APs mounted on buildings along the streets, walkways and public areas like the Braves fountain or on balconies of the close-by sports bars.

Yes it is, in great force

Having such good connectivity made tasks like getting an Uber ride a snap, since the Wi-Fi coverage extended out from the ballpark exits through the Battery streets to the designated Uber pickup zone.

Inside the park, Gatti first showed us (through a glass door) the Braves’ new data center room, which reminded us of the similar facility at the Sacramento Kings’ Golden 1 Center. If there’s any commonality for new stadium builds, it’s that the geeks usually get a nice, clean, efficient looking room for their gear instead of some dusty concrete dungeon in the venue basement. And though we’re not network engineers here at MSR on our walk around the visible AP mounts and other equipment installs looked sharp, well constructed and smartly hidden, placed when possible out of the normal fan’s line of sight.

Instead of listing all the speed tests we took I will simply say that in almost all places the speeds we saw were between a low of 62.29 Mbps / 65.84 Mbps (taken in the Home Depot balcony club area above the left-field bleachers) and a high of 88.17 / 101.54, in the upper deck seats along the right field line. A quick test of the Verizon Wireless DAS saw a reading of 106.36 / 25.18 in the upper deck concourse behind home plate; we didn’t have an AT&T phone with us so more thorough DAS testing will have to wait for another day.

A good look through the glass doors of the data center

Beer coolers a ‘cool’ idea

On beyond connectivity, the Braves clearly kept technology in the forefront when they made other innovations throughout the park. One that resonated with us were the electronic beer coolers we saw in several premium seating areas. Basically, these are cup-holder holes cut into a countertop with coolers inside, which keep your beer ice-cold when you’re not holding the cup.

The IPTV operations at the park were also impressive, from the tablet-based TV controls in suites (software provided by YinzCam) to the touchscreen directory kiosks in The Battery. For some of the premium seats right behind home plate, there are interactive televisions mounted between seats; another new premium area just above the first bowl of seats behind home plate has tables with four high-top chairs, which are sold as sort of very-small suites. The tables have a small TV in the middle which can be used to watch programming as well as to order food and drink to be delivered in club-seating fashion.

Several other club-type areas like the Home Depot suite, a Comcast-sponsored bar area in the upper deck near the right field foul pole and a club at field level in right field with a chain-link fence cutout view of the field give the Braves multiple options to give premium seating to groups of many sizes, along with the traditional suite areas.

An AmpThink-designed enclosure for railing-mounted Wi-Fi APs

In many of the premium seating areas the Braves have also installed USB charging ports, another nod to the ubiquity of mobile devices being brought to games. There are also numerous Big Ass Fans installed on concourse walkways, a nice amenity that takes into account the sometimes stifling humid heat in Atlanta.

If there was one snag to the game-day experience at SunTrust Park we’d say that the traffic situation of getting to and from the venue needs some more thought. Even though the park sits right by a major freeway, the exits and entrances don’t seem to offer a quick flow in our out for anyone who is arriving from, say, downtown Atlanta, which is about 10 miles away. Unfortunately, Atlanta’s good MARTA subway service doesn’t go anywhere near the park, making all transportation a wheels-based necessity.

The designated Uber dropoff area is a good example of an idea that needs some experience-based tweaking, with pickup and dropoff zones on the opposite side of a street that seemed congested from well before the game to afterward. While having a clearly signed place for ride-share activity is smart, the attempt to do dropoffs on one side and pickups on another led to several confusing U-turn attempts even in our small number of interactions. There’s also no oversight or on-site assistance or staffers to help either customers or drivers, which for a first-time venue seems an error in judgement.

But overall, SunTrust Park seems like a huge success that will only get better over time — according to Braves president of development Mike Plant, only about 30 percent of the space in the Battery is currently open, meaning there will be more businesses and residents surrounding the park in the near future. Already it’s clear that fans have found the space an agreeable one to hang out before games — while speaking at the SEAT Conference Plant said that most of the bars and restaurants are full well before game times, so he warned SEAT visitors to get there early if they wanted to grab a bite to eat or a drink before a ballgame.

More pictures from our visit below. Thanks to the Braves for our tour and to MLB for media access during our stay.

Panoramic view of SunTrust Park

A club space with a view out the right field wall

Wi-Fi AP mounted on outfield concourse

A look at railing AP mounts in the outfield bleacher seating

The IPTV control screen for suites

IPTVs located between premium seats right behind home plate

Tabletop seating with TV just above home plate

The big ball with its 360-degree LED screen

Fans walking through The Battery on their way to the game

Another Battery view with the Comcast office building behind right field visible

Main scoreboard promoting the MLB app

Sightlines and decks at SunTrust seem built for selfies

Nice view from the upper deck

Closeup of a Wi-Fi AP install

Above fans’ eyes is a DAS gear placement (and a Big Ass fan)

DAS gear mounted on the roof of the centerfield concourse wall

Thunderstorms, the beautiful but unwelcome visitors

Stadium Tech Professionals: LAST DAY to take our 2016 stadium tech survey!

2015_SoS_thumbIf you are a stadium technology professional working for a school, team or stadium ownership group, it’s that time of year again — we need your participation in our 2016 State of the Stadium Technology Survey. Now in its fourth year of existence, the “State of the Stadium” survey is the only independent, large-public-venue research that charts deployments of stadium technology like Wi-Fi, DAS, Digital Signage and Beaconing, and the use of digital sports marketing tools like Wi-Fi analytics, CRM and social media. If you are part of a stadium operations group and know what goes on inside your venue, take the 2016 survey right now!

Because this is an ANONYMOUS, AGGREGATED INFORMATION ONLY survey, that means that answers aren’t tied to any school, team or individual. Just look at last year’s survey to see how the answers are reported. That also means that all answers are completely confidential, and will not be sold, marketed or otherwise communicated in any way, shape or form outside of the ANONYMOUS TOTALS used in the survey report.

So since we’re trying to find out aggregate numbers — not individual details — it’s just as important for all of us to know who doesn’t have Wi-Fi as well as who does. So even if your school or team or stadium doesn’t have Wi-Fi — and may never have Wi-Fi — you should still TAKE THE SURVEY and add your organization’s information to the total. The more answers we get, the better the data are for everyone.

Survey time is time well spent

And that “everyone” thing leads me to my next point: If you’re a regular reader here you can and should consider the few minutes it takes to complete the survey as a small way of “paying back” to the rest of the members of this fine industry, many of whom make time for the interviews, visits and emails that form the core of all the excellent free content available here on the MSR site and through our long-form reports (and now our podcasts as well). We know you are busy, and that spending time answering a list of technology questions may not seem like the highest priority on your to-do list. But a little bit of your time can really help us all.

That’s because we also know, from our website statistics and from our report download numbers and just from conversations with many of you, that our audience of stadium technology professionals appreciates the honest, objective stories and analysis we provide. (We humbly thank you for continuing to make us a regular reading choice.) And now, by taking the survey, you can help make the site and our work even better, just by adding your team, school or stadium’s technology deployment information into the 2016 State of the Stadium Technology Survey. The more results we get, the better and more informative the survey becomes — and that’s something that’s truly a win-win situation for all involved.

Once again the State of the Stadium Technology Survey will be exclusively delivered first to the attendees of the SEAT Conference, being held this year in Las Vegas, July 17-20. Production of this year’s survey is made possible by the sponsorship of JMA Wireless, and through our partnership with the SEAT Consortium, owners and operators of the excellent SEAT event. All those who participate in the survey will receive a full digital copy of the final report, whether you attend the SEAT Conference or not. As a bonus, all SEAT attendees will get a print version of the survey results. If you haven’t already, you can sign up to attend SEAT.

Final reminder: This survey is meant to be taken ONLY by stadium technology professionals, executives, and team or school representatives who can accurately describe the deployments in place at their organization. It is NOT a survey to be taken by everyone, only by those who have a deployment to describe. If you have any questions about whether you should take the survey or not, send an email to me at kaps at mobilesportsreport.com. Thanks in advance for your time and participation!

Stadium Tech Professionals: Time to take our 2015 stadium tech survey!

SOS14_thumbIf you are a stadium technology professional working for a school, team or stadium ownership group, it’s that time of year again — we need your participation to make our 2015 State of the Stadium Technology Survey our best yet! Now in its third year of existence, the “State of the Stadium” survey is the only independent, large-public-venue research that charts deployments of stadium technology like Wi-Fi, DAS, Digital Signage and Beaconing, and the use of digital sports marketing tools like CRM and social media. If you are part of a stadium operations group and know the answers, take the 2015 survey right now!

Before I get to a deeper explanation of the survey, a quick story: During last year’s survey season, I called a team IT exec that I knew well and asked why nobody from his organization had taken the survey. “Well, we don’t have Wi-Fi installed yet,” the exec said. “We’ll take the survey next year after it’s deployed.” I didn’t have the heart to say it at the time but — his take was completely the WRONG ANSWER. Why? Because this is an ANONYMOUS, AGGREGATED INFORMATION ONLY survey, which means that answers aren’t tied to any school, team or individual. Just look at last year’s survey to see how the answers are reported. That also means that all answers are completely confidential, and will not be sold, marketed or otherwise communicated in any way, shape or form outside of the ANONYMOUS TOTALS used in the survey report.

So since we’re trying to find out aggregate numbers — not individual details — it’s just as important for all of us to know who doesn’t have Wi-Fi as well as who does. So even if your school or team or stadium doesn’t have Wi-Fi — and may never have Wi-Fi — you should still TAKE THE SURVEY and add your organization’s information to the total. The more answers we get, the better the data are for everyone.

Survey time is time well spent

And that “everyone” thing leads me to my next point: If you’re a regular reader here you can and should consider the few minutes it takes to complete the survey as a small way of “paying back” to the rest of the members of this fine industry, many of whom make time for the interviews, visits and emails that form the core of all the excellent free content available here on the MSR site and through our long-form reports. We know you are busy, and that spending time answering a list of technology questions may not seem like the highest priority on your to-do list. But a little bit of your time can really help us all.

That’s because we also know, from our website statistics and from our report download numbers and just from conversations with many of you, that our audience of stadium technology professionals appreciates the honest, objective stories and analysis we provide. (We humbly thank you for making us a regular reading choice.) And now, by taking the survey, you can help make the site and our work even better, just by adding your team, school or stadium’s technology deployment information into the 2015 State of the Stadium Technology Survey. The more results we get, the better and more informative the survey becomes — and that’s something that’s truly a win-win situation for all involved.

Once again the State of the Stadium Technology Survey will be exclusively delivered first to the attendees of the SEAT Conference, being held this year in our home town of San Francisco, July 19-22. Production of this year’s survey is made possible by the sponsorship of Mobilitie, and through our partnership with the SEAT Consortium, owners and operators of the excellent SEAT event. All those who participate in the survey will receive a full digital copy of the final report, whether you attend the SEAT Conference or not.

Final reminder: This survey is meant to be taken ONLY by stadium technology professionals, executives, and team or school representatives who can accurately describe the deployments in place at their organization. It is NOT a survey to be taken by everyone, only by those who have a deployment to describe. If you have any questions about whether you should take the survey or not, send an email to me at kaps at mobilesportsreport.com. Thanks in advance for your time and participation!

What We Learned at SEAT: Wi-Fi ROI is Elusive, Plan Big for DAS, Apps Not There Yet

Last month we had the great fortune to be invited to the SEAT Conference, which has to be the premier gathering of sports and entertainment facility technology professionals. Over two and a half days we heard many stories of early experiences with technologies like Wi-Fi, DAS, CRM and digital signage, and we left incredibly impressed with both the level of detail and honesty shared at the event.

Quite simply, if you are in the stadium technology business and want to learn what’s happening at the cutting edge, you should put SEAT on your agenda every year, just like all the reps from the biggest stadiums and arenas who make it a regular stop. (Follow this page to find out where and when SEAT 2014 will happen.)

While we are still working on putting together some of the detailed stories from SEAT participants for our Fall technology report, what we can share right now are some overall lessons learned from both the great panel discussions as well as via hallway chats and discussions during the evening events at SEAT. The top three takeaways I had were: stadium Wi-Fi ROI is elusive; you need to plan big for DAS deployment; and stadium apps are still a work in progress.

Apps: Still at the Starting Line

If I move backwards through that list, I can pretty confidently say that the reason many stadium apps are still at the starting line has mainly to do with a lack of deployed infrastructure. Even at facilities where Wi-Fi has been in place for several years, stadium apps both from teams and leagues are mainly just offering basic information and connectivity. The grand dreams of ordering concessions via mobile devices and having them delivered is still a future fantasy for all but a select few facilities now, mainly because most facilities are still just getting their hands around operating a public network.

Wi-Fi ROI: Elusive

And without apps that are tested in live networks, it’s hard to show any bottom-line ROI for Wi-Fi deployments. It’s a real chicken and egg problem, especially now that major cellular carriers are backing away from helping to finance Wi-Fi in favor of paying for DAS deployments. For the most part, stadiums are going to be on their own when it comes to paying for Wi-Fi deployments, since any benefits of putting in such a network will eventually go straight to the team. But that might not happen in a big way until more apps arrive. While pretty much everyone in attendance at SEAT was in agreement that Wi-Fi is going be as necessary and as basic as liquid plumbing, it’s largely a faith-based argument right now.

DAS: Plan for Space

That leads us to DAS, aka Distributed Antenna Systems, which are being deployed just about everywhere mainly because the large cellular carriers (AT&T and Verizon) are paying most of the bills. If there has been a strategic shift in the stadium business the past year it has been the wireless carriers’ change in emphasis from Wi-Fi offload (where Wi-Fi is used to supplement cellular coverage) to DAS, which brings true cellular connectivity to an array of small antennas spread throughout a facility.

There’s a lot of interesting technical and business nuances around DAS, including whether or not a neutral third party should build and host the network. We’ll be covering these issues in much greater detail going forward, because of their immediate and considerable bottom-line impact. But the biggest takeaway we had from DAS had to do with physical space — as in the space needed to host all the DAS equipment on site. Bottom line: You are going to need a lot of room for DAS. (AT&T antenna group guru Chad Townes showed us pictures of the DAS equipment room at the Dallas Cowboys stadium, and it looked like something out of the Matrix — a huge room completely filled with servers and telco gear.)

Why does DAS take up so much room? Basically for every carrier — think Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile — you need to install, on site, a separate cellular base station, with all the networking gear to handle call ideintification and authentication. Then there is more gear to simply manage the connections in all the antennas, plus gear to connect all that to the public networks. And lots and lots of power and air conditioning to keep everything cool.

So how much space do you need? Estimates ranged from 5,000 square feet (about the size of a hotel ballroom) to just a bit smaller. Some facilities said they were putting DAS in buildings nearby, using fiber to connect those buildings to the stadium. But the big takeaway seemed to be, whatever space you think you need for DAS, you probably need more.

Look for more info on these topics in our upcoming Fall technology report. Best way to know when that comes out? Sign up for our email list, via the button in the upper corner of the home page.

MSR Special Report: Bringing Technology to the ‘Friendly Confines’ of Wrigley Field

Wrigley Field on Opening Day, 2012. Photo courtesy of Chicago Cubs.  All rights reserved.

Wrigley Field on Opening Day, 2012. Photo courtesy of Chicago Cubs. All rights reserved.

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of interviews with speakers and thought leaders from the upcoming SEAT 2013 conference in Kansas City, Aug. 4-7.

There are baseball stadiums, and then there is Wrigley Field. As a dyed in the blue-pinstriped-wool Cubs fan, I can’t write objectively about the place. It is Mecca, the Friendly Confines, the hallowed outfield walls of ivy. It’s precisely because of people like me that Andrew McIntyre’s job of bringing better technology to the storied ballyard is so much more complex than that of his stadium-technology peers. Wrigley may have one of the greenest fields anywhere, but from an information-technology deployment standpoint Wrigley is about as far away from a “greenfield” project as you can get.

McIntyre, Senior Director of Information Technology for the Chicago Cubs, spoke with MSR recently on the phone to describe the delicate line his organization must tread as it brings necessary technology improvements to one of the world’s great historic sporting venues. In other stadiums, things like a brand-new huge video board would be welcomed, even celebrated. At Wrigley? Renovation plans that include an outfield video board will need to pass muster with national landmark regulations, and survice reactions from a widespread fan base that resists even the slightest changes to the stadium, and work with the unique neighborhood apartment buildings whose rooftops offer views into the stadium.

So when McIntyre said the Cubs need to get “everyone on board” before things like video screens can be introduced, he’s talking about a lot more than people who pull a Cubs paycheck. That extra planning, McIntyre admits, will likely keep the Cubs a bit behind their sports-stadium brethren in certain technology areas, like digital signage. But on many other fronts McIntyre and his technology team are helping the Cubs and Wrigley keep pace with advanced stadium services, like better mobile device connectivity.

Wi-Fi and DAS, with AT&T

Now in his second year with the Cubs, McIntyre and the IT team there has spent a good amount of time putting infrastructure in place that will support future efforts, beginning with things like optical fiber deployments that bring an almost 10-fold speed improvement in bandwidth backhaul.

Andrew McIntyre, Senior Director of Information Technology, Chicago Cubs. Photo courtesy of Chicago Cubs.  All rights reserved.

Andrew McIntyre, Senior Director of Information Technology, Chicago Cubs. Photo courtesy of Chicago Cubs. All rights reserved.

“Some severe infrastructure upgrades were needed here to enable initiatives moving forward,” McIntyre said. “There was historically a lack of investment from the IT side of the house. We’ve been working on a lot of non-fan-facing improvements that are very critical to us.”

One improvement that fans have been able to enjoy for the past season and a half is improved mobile connectivity inside the park, thanks to a neutral-host Distributed Antenna System (DAS) deployment and a stadium Wi-Fi network, built with carrier partner AT&T. “Next time you’re here, keep your eyes peeled for the antennas,” McIntyre said.

Having improved cellular and Wi-Fi connectivity puts the Cubs in the top third of MLB franchises, as by our count only 12 of the 30 major league parks currently offer free fan Wi-Fi services. When it comes to advanced apps and services that such in-park networks might power, like same-day seat upgrades or video replays, McIntyre said the Cubs are paying close attention to pilot programs underway at other parks, and will be “fast followers” when MLB-approved solutions are ready for prime time. (All in-stadium apps in baseball parks can only be run through the league’s At Bat or At the Ballpark mobile app.)

“I don’t think anyone’s knocking it out of the park yet” with in-stadium services, McIntyre said. But McIntyre also said he and the Cubs have met with franchises who are trying leading-edge deployments, including the San Francisco Giants and some European stadiums.

“We’re doing a lot of watching, listening, and learning,” McIntyre said.

Digital Signage as a Communication Vehicle

While most of the heated debate around the Cubs’ renovation plans centers on the size and placement of the proposed outfield video board, McIntyre and his team are looking deeper into a synchronized digital signage strategy, where boards all around the stadium — even, say, a concession stand pricing menu — could become a communications vehicle for the team to send messages out to the fans.

Wrigley Field marquee entrance. Photo courtesy of Chicago Cubs.  All rights reserved.

Wrigley Field marquee entrance. Photo courtesy of Chicago Cubs. All rights reserved.

“One major thing we are investigating is how the signage can change, to become a communications channel,” McIntyre said. Currently, when games go to a rain delay, there’s not a lot of ways for the team to give fans information about when the game might restart, or to communicate weather forecasts and safety instructions. That could change with a digital signage system that can instantly act as a synchronized stadium-wide messaging system.

“The digital signage strategy doesn’t necessarily get highlighted [in public discussions] but it can all become a vehicle to communicate,” McIntyre said.

Andrew McIntyre will be speaking at the upcoming SEAT Conference in Kansas City, Aug. 4-7.

Sunday Sermon: Get your Seat to SEAT 2013

SEAT_290What are you doing the first week of August? If you are in the business of sports stadium or large-arena technology, you should be planning to attend the SEAT 2013 conference Aug. 4-7 in Kansas City. If you’re not, you’re going to miss out on the chance to interact with real people who are tackling the real tasks of bringing technology to their arenas, to enhance the fan experience while they improve their own organization’s bottom line.

As part of our partnership with the folks who run the SEAT conference we are in the process of putting together some great long-form interviews with the people who will be speaking at the event, and those stories will be appearing soon here on the MSR site. Though I hope the stories are informative and entertaining, I know they’re just a small substitute for the “main course” of information you can get by showing up at SEAT in person, to listen in person to the nuances and details of the work being done by these stadium-technology leaders.

Though we’ve paid a lot of attention to stadium technology here at MSR over the last two years, I’ve always known that we are only scratching the surface when we report, say, a new Wi-Fi network being deployed. There’s always more to the story, and as I am learning through these recent interviews with SEAT speakers, there is almost always something specific and local to a stadium, arena or large-crowd facility that is far different from the norm. Like having to deal with historic building regulations in order to install video boards, or having to satisfy a sponsor contract with a wireless service provider while trying to bring connectivity to all the fans in a facility. We’ll soon have some interesting tales from folks running some of the biggest-name places in the big leagues of sports, so stay tuned to hear their stories.

The bottom line is, there are no easy, cookie-cutter ways to deploy technology. That’s why I think hearing as many stories and insights as possible from the people doing this work today is invaluable. And that’s what you’ll get from Aug. 4-7 in Kansas City at SEAT: up-close and personal interaction with the leading deployers of stadium technology and applications, in a setting set up to foster collaboration and information sharing. Don’t miss out, book your ticket to SEAT today.