‘Fan Mobile Pass’ will serve as NFL’s Super Bowl 52 app, from pregame activities to game day functions

For the second year in a row, the NFL is building its own mobile app for the Super Bowl, this time with a single-application strategy meant to cover both fan activities the week before Super Bowl LII, as well as game-day functionality at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

In a phone interview Thursday with Aaron Amendolia, vice president of IT services for the NFL’s office of the CIO, Amendolia said the new strategy of having a single app for pre-game and game-day activity was meant to drive adoption and eliminate confusion over which app fans might need for various Super Bowl interactions. Last year, the NFL tried to harmonize its Super Bowl app strategy but still required fans to use a separate app — the NFL Mobile app — to see game highlights and other content.

The Super Bowl LII app is now available for download, and fans can sign up on the Super Bowl app website for a chance to win tickets to the big game, while also providing personal information that Amendolia said will assist with the league’s quest to bring more “personalization” to the experience.

“There’s more gamification to the app, with the opportunity for fans to win achievements” through the week, Amendolia said. According to the sign-up web page, there will be a heavy focus on social media engagement, with promises of availability of free autographs from current and past NFL stars; the ability to take a picture of the Super Bowl trophy; and to see images of all 51 Super Bowl rings. There will also be sponsor-activation activities throughout Minneapolis, most likely at the NFL Super Bowl Live fan site on Nicollet Mall and other Super Bowl events, where presumably fans can “check in” with the app’s QR code to earn rewards.

Wayfinding maps, but no blue dots

For both the week before and game day, Amendolia said the app will have wayfinding maps, but they won’t be active “blue dot” wayfinding, even though that feature is supported in the Vikings’ own stadium app, which was developed for the Vikings by app developer VenueNext.

“We did discuss [beacon-enabled] options, but there are some challenges to that that are unique to the Super Bowl,” said Amendolia, noting things like temporary structures and closed roads for Super Bowl activities that could be harder to integrate into maps. For wayfinding beyond maps, Amendolia said there would be a heavy reliance on digital signage information in and around the stadium to help fans find their way.

Like last year, the NFL Super Bowl app will not have any functionality allowing fans to order food or drinks for delivery or express pickup, with the latter being a service that was tested at Vikings home games this season. The app will allow fans to pre-order merchandise and pick it up at locations around town during the week before the game, Amendolia said, and will also allow suite ticketholders to order merchandise for pickup during the game.

One interesting question is whether or not the Vikings will be allowed to make their own app active for the game if they make the Super Bowl by beating the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC championship this weekend. If so, it would represent the first time an NFL team played in the Super Bowl at its home stadium, an issue never faced in the era of team apps. Vikings officials did not respond yet to questions about the possible availability of the team app for the Super Bowl, but we will update this post if and when they do.

Your Levi’s Stadium technology primer: Everything you need to know about wireless technology at the site of Super Bowl 50!

Scoreboard promo for the Levi's Wi-Fi network, from 2014 season. All photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

Scoreboard promo for the Levi’s Wi-Fi network, from 2014 season. All photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

With Super Bowl 50 two weeks away there is going to be increased interest about whether or not Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., host site of the event, is “the most technologically advanced” athletic venue. Here at Mobile Sports Report, we have spent the better part of the last two years researching and reporting on Levi’s Stadium and all its technical components, attending multiple events and compiling all the known statistics we can find, to present as complete and as honest an assessment as possible, from a completely objective perspective, about the technology found at Levi’s Stadium.

So what’s our verdict? As we see it, there are three main features that set Levi’s Stadium aside from most others, and qualify it for consideration as one of the most technologically advanced large public venues: The stadium’s Wi-Fi network, its distributed antenna system, or DAS, and the integrated Levi’s Stadium app, which takes advantage of a large network of beacons to provide wayfinding and other location-based features. Though some of the components, like the Wi-Fi network, may not be the fastest or largest around, it’s our opinion that the sum of the parts puts Levi’s Stadium at or near the top of any well-connected stadium list; but the 2-year-old venue’s real test won’t come until Super Sunday, when we’ll all see if the networks, apps and personnel performance can live up to the stress of one of sport’s biggest events.

For anyone who wants to know the exhaustive details behind the technology, we’ve included in this story links to all of our Levi’s Stadium stories we think are pertinent, to help other writers or interested sports-tech types get a grip on what’s really going to be technologically available to the 72,000 or so fans who show up on Feb. 7 to watch the NFL’s 50th annual big game.

For starters, here is the first part of a feature we did at the start of the season about how Levi’s Stadium was getting ready for Super Bowl 50. Though we expect some more news next week about late additions, this article pretty much sums up the first-year performance and the tweaks the San Francisco 49ers made to their home-stadium’s wireless infrastructure. And here is the second part of the feature, which focuses more on the stadium’s excellent app, which we’ll talk more about later.

Fans take pictures at Levi's Stadium, opening day 2014 season.

Fans take pictures at Levi’s Stadium, opening day 2014 season.

Wi-Fi: It’s good, but is it the best?

The Wi-Fi in the stadium is pretty good, among the best out there anywhere, but probably not the biggest or fastest network in all the land. Though the Aruba-gear network was innovative for its heavy use of under-seat Wi-Fi APs and the 1,200 APs it had for its first year, other stadiums are meeting or beating those numbers, and under-seat deployments are now becoming quite trendy for venues that want fast, wide connectivity. With slightly more than 1,200 APs now, the Levi’s Stadium Wi-Fi network has seen some big-traffic days for Wi-Fi, including the stadium’s NFL regular-season opener and a WrestleMania event last year.

Among stadiums we’ve seen, AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, has more Wi-Fi APs and is a bigger place (by about 30,000 in capacity for football) so it had more overall Wi-Fi traffic than Levi’s the past couple years. And Kyle Field’s new network down at Texas A&M is the fastest we’ve seen anywhere, and already has had a bigger Wi-Fi traffic day than Levi’s Stadium. And we haven’t yet visited Miami’s Sun Life Stadium but they get a lot of wireless traffic there too. So while Levi’s Stadium may be among the best, we’re not quite sure it is at the top of the list, at least when it comes to sheer Wi-Fi connectivity.

We might change our tune if the Super Bowl 50 crowd can top last year’s Super Bowl Wi-Fi traffic total of 6.23 terabytes, recorded at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. But so far the biggest total recorded at Levi’s Stadium was 4.5 TB seen at the WrestleMania 31 event last March. From our unofficial observations, the “top 5” list of most single-day Wi-Fi events we know of are:

1) 6.23 TB — Super Bowl XLIX, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz., Feb. 1, 2015
2) 5.7 TB — Alabama vs. Texas A&M, Kyle Field, College Station, Texas, Oct. 17, 2015
3) 4.93 TB — College Football Playoff championship game, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, Jan. 12, 2015
4) 4.9 TB — College Football Playoff championship game, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz., Jan. 11, 2016
5) 4.5 TB — WrestleMania 31, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif., March 31, 2015

For what it’s worth, Super Bowl XLVIII in MetLife Stadium used only 3.2 TB of Wi-Fi, so it will be interesting to see what happens with the growth curve at SB50. In addition to total data “tonnage” there is also an interesting observation about how much data is used per fan, on average. When we get the stats back from Super Bowl Sunday it will be interesting to see if the smaller crowd at Levi’s Stadium will have used more data per connected person, a good reflection of both the carrying capacity of the network and the ease of connecting and staying connected to the Wi-Fi.

Replacing the entire DAS for better cellular connectivity

What is often confusing to non-tech types who try to write about stadium wireless is realizing that there are often two separate networks, Wi-Fi and cellular, operating in the same venue. While many fans actively seek out Wi-Fi, many game-day attendees either don’t bother or don’t know how to connect to Wi-Fi, and so just use their phones like they do anywhere else. To make sure they still have a strong signal, wireless carriers and venues often team up to deploy a distributed antenna system, or DAS, which is basically a bunch of small antennas located inside the venue that act just like a big cell tower, connecting phones to the nearest antenna.

Close-up of new DAS antennas (from mid-July, before the wires were connected)

Close-up of new DAS antennas (from mid-July, before the wires were connected)

At Levi’s Stadium, integrator DAS Group Professionals (DGP) built a “neutral host” DAS for the stadium, which means the team owns the infrastructure and rents out space to carriers so they can connect to customers inside the building. One of the more interesting twists this past offseason was that DGP ripped out and replaced the entire DAS network it built the year before, at the behest of its customers, the major cellular providers. Why? According to DGP, the cell providers — who paid for the upgrade — are expecting as much as 2.5 times more cellular data at this year’s Super Bowl compared to last year, huge numbers that they were afraid might overwhelm the system installed in 2014.

During a stadium tour this summer, MSR saw that the main Levi’s Stadium head end (where the telecom gear that connects the stadium to the outside networks lives) was being doubled in size, so by any stretch cell connectivity should be good if not great during the big game. DGP was also supposed to be increasing cell coverage outside the stadium in the parking lots, but so far we haven’t heard any reports if reception was better this year than last.

At big events like the Super Bowl, the big wireless carriers will spend like crazy to make sure there are no reports of “phones not working,” so the DAS upgrades have become somewhat par for the course. AT&T said that it spent $25 million on wireless infrastructure improvements in the greater Bay area, including expanding its DAS operations inside Levi’s Stadium to allow them to handle 150 percent more traffic. You can expect that Verizon was spending some similar dollars, so rest assured, if you are there your phone will more likely than not find a signal.

What will the app let you do?

The biggest question remaining about the technological underpinnings of Super Bowl 50 — at least as of Sunday night — is whether or not all the features from the regular-season Levi’s Stadium app will make it into the mix for the Super Bowl, especially the one that really sets Levi’s Stadium apart, the ability to order food to be delivered to any seat in the stadium.

Though we’ve been given a “head nod” that the service will be available for Super Sunday, we haven’t yet received any official notice of what’s going to be in the game-day app either from app provider VenueNext or the NFL. This season Niners fans at home games could not only order food and drinks for themselves, they could order and pay for food to be delivered to friends in the stadium, something we noted in our season preview of changes to the groundbreaking Levi’s Stadium app.

App showing ability to buy pricey parking ticket for your RV

App showing ability to buy pricey parking ticket for your RV

If there is some doubt whether the league and the stadium might not make food-delivery available for the Super Bowl, it might have to do with the fact that at one of last year’s “big events” at Levi’s Stadium, the NHL’s Stadium Series outdoor hockey game, the food-delivery service melted down in the face of a massive amount of orders and a too-low level of human staffing. But our guess is that eventually (maybe this week?) we will hear that the Super Bowl app will embrace all the features of the regular Levi’s Stadium game-day app, including in-seat delivery.

What many fans at the game may find even more useful is the app’s ability to provide wayfinding capabilities through a mapping feature that uses the 2,000+ Bluetooth beacons installed throughout the venue to provide live wayfinding, just like how Google Maps shows your car as a blue dot driving down the highway. With many attendees most likely visiting the stadium for the first time, having the ability to find your way around via your device may be the most welcome reason to download the app. Fans should also be able to watch in-stadium replays seconds after plays happen, and may also be able to watch Super Bowl broadcast commercials via their mobile device. Stay tuned for more “official” announcements of app capabilities as we hear them.

In case you haven’t heard enough, here are a few more links from our in-person visits to Levi’s Stadium for Niners home games during the 2014 season.

Niners’ home opener tops Super Bowl for Wi-Fi data traffic with 3.3 Terabytes (Sept. 16, 2014)

Levi’s Stadium ‘NiNerds’ get high-visibility wardrobe upgrade (Nov. 23, 2014)

Stadium Tech Report: Network finishes season strong at Niners’ Levi’s Stadium (Jan. 12, 2015)

YinzCam’s Super Bowl stadium app will have instant replays, Super Bowl commericals, stadium maps and more

Screen shot of Super Bowl app for this year's game.

Screen shot of Super Bowl app for this year’s game.

We’ve been waiting for official word on what the YinzCam-developed app for the Super Bowl will look like, and though there’s no press release the page where we are guessing it will eventually be available is offering some details, like the availability of instant replays from different camera angles, video of Super Bowl commercials, and stadium maps.

On the Seahawks.com site we found a good how-to story for fans going to the game, which included a link to this page, where we are guessing the Super Bowl stadium app will be available for download. Here is the boilerplate:

New for Super Bowl XLIX, the Super Bowl Stadium App Presented by Verizon aims to take the fan experience inside University of Phoenix Stadium to the next level. Features that will enhance Super Bowl ticketholders’ experiences include exclusive in-stadium video content such as Super Bowl commercials and replays from four different camera angles, stadium seating and concession maps, once-in-a-lifetime gameday opportunities visible only to fans inside the stadium and the option to receive up-to-the-minute gameday notifications. Available on iOS, Android and Windows. Goes Live 23rd January 2015

(Looks like the app is already available in the App Store and in Google Play, but nothing is live; we downloaded the app and the only three buttons available, for highlights, commercials and memories, all say they will be available on Feb. 1 at the stadium, so no idea what the “goes live” on the splash page above means yet.)

Screen Shot 2015-01-23 at 11.40.41 PMYinzCam founder and CEO Priya Narasimhan had told us earlier this year that a Super Bowl app was in the making, and apparently it will contain features found in some of the latest YinzCam app deployments, such as the Seattle Seahawks’ new stadium app, which has multiple camera angle replays. The Super Bowl app is different from the Arizona Cardinals’ regular stadium app, which was also built by YinzCam, which also features instant replays.

We were able to download the app for iPhone (it’s free) and apparently you will need to be connected to the stadium Wi-Fi (which has the clever SSID of “Stadium WiFi”) in order to view highlights and other video options.

The good thing for fans at the big game, there will be plenty of networking horsepower to keep the app running, no matter where you are. If you’re inside the stadium there is a new Wi-Fi network and a refurbished DAS deployment to keep fans connected; stay tuned next week for our big breakdown of DAS deployments and carrier plans to keep the Super Bowl crowds super-connected.