New Report: Texas A&M scores with new digital fan-engagement strategy

In the short history of in-stadium mobile fan engagement, a team or stadium app has been the go-to strategy for many venue owners and operators. But what if that strategy is wrong?

That question gets an interesting answer with the lead profile in our most recent STADIUM TECH REPORT, the Winter 2018-19 issue! These quarterly long-form reports are designed to give stadium and large public venue owners and operators, and digital sports business executives a way to dig deep into the topic of stadium technology, via exclusive research and profiles of successful stadium technology deployments, as well as news and analysis of topics important to this growing market.

Leading off for this issue is an in-depth report on a new browser-based digital game day program effort launched this football season at Texas A&M, where some longtime assumptions about mobile apps and fan engagement were blown apart by the performance of the Aggies’ new project. A must read for all venue operations professionals! We also have in-person visits to Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the renovated State Farm Arena, the venue formerly known as Philips Arena. A Q&A with NFL CIO Michelle McKenna-Doyle and a report on a CBRS network test by the PGA round out this informative issue! DOWNLOAD YOUR REPORT today!

We’d like to take a quick moment to thank our sponsors, which for this issue include Mobilitie, JMA Wireless, Corning, Huber+Suhner, Boingo, Oberon, MatSing, Neutral Connect Networks, Everest Networks, and ExteNet Systems. Their generous sponsorship makes it possible for us to offer this content free of charge to our readers. We’d also like to welcome readers from the Inside Towers community, who may have found their way here via our ongoing partnership with the excellent publication Inside Towers. We’d also like to thank the SEAT community for your continued interest and support.

As always, we are here to hear what you have to say: Send me an email to kaps@mobilesportsreport.com and let us know what you think of our STADIUM TECH REPORT series.

BYU scores with new Wi-Fi, app for LaVell Edwards Stadium

BYU’s LaVell Edwards Stadium. Credit all photos: photo@byu.edu (click on any picture for a larger image)

At Brigham Young University, the wait for Wi-Fi was worth it.

After a selection and deployment process that took almost three years, the first full season of Wi-Fi at BYU’s LaVell Edwards Stadium was a roaring success, with high fan adoption rates and a couple 6-plus terabyte single-game data totals seen during the 2018 football season. Using 1,241 APs from gear supplier Extreme Networks, the Wi-Fi deployment also saw high usage of the new game-day app, built for BYU by local software supplier Pesci Sports.

Duff Tittle, associate athletic director for communications at Brigham Young University, said the school spent nearly 2 1/2 years “studying the concept” of bringing Wi-Fi to the 63,470-seat stadium in Provo, Utah. After looking at “five different options,” BYU chose to go with Extreme, based mainly on Extreme’s long track record of football stadium deployments.

“We visited their stadiums, and also liked what they offered for analytics,” said Tittle of Extreme. “They had what we were looking for.”

According to Tittle, the deployment was actually mostly finished in 2017, allowing the school to do a test run at the last game of that season. Heading into 2018, Tittle said the school was “really excited” to see what its new network could do — and the fans went even beyond those expectations.

Opener a big success

For BYU’s Sept. 8 home opener against California, Tittle said the Wi-Fi network saw 27,563 unique connections out of 52,602 in attendance — a 52 percent take rate. BYU’s new network also saw a peak of 26,797 concurrent connections (midway through the fourth quarter) en route to a first-day data total of 6.23 TB. The network also saw a peak bandwidth rate of 4.55 Gbps, according to statistics provided by the school.

Sideline AP deployment

“It blew us away, the number of connections [at the Cal game],” Tittle said. “It exceeded what we thought we’d get, right out of the gate.”

With almost no overhangs in the stadium — there is only one sideline structure for media and suites — BYU and Extreme went with mostly under-seat AP deployments, Tittle said, with approximately 1,000 of the 1,241 APs located inside the seating bowl. Extreme has used under-seat deployments in many of its NFL stadium networks, including at Super Bowl LI in Houston.

Another success story was the new BYU app, which Tittle said had been in development for almost as long as the Wi-Fi plan. While many stadium and team apps struggle for traction, the BYU app saw good usage right out of the gate, finishing just behind the ESPN app for total number of users (2,306 for the BYU app vs. 2,470 for ESPN) during the same Cal game. The BYU app just barely trailed Instagram (2,327) in number of users seen that day, and outpaced SnapChat (1,603) and Twitter (1,580), according to statistics provided by Tittle. The app also supports instant replay video, as well as a service that lets fans order food to be picked up at a couple express-pickup windows.

What also might have helped fuel app adoption is the presence of a “social media” ribbon board along the top of one side of the stadium, where fan messages get seen in wide-screen glory. Tittle said the tech-savvy locals in the Provo area (which has long been the home to many technology companies, including LAN pioneer Novell) are also probably part of the app crowd, “since our fan base loves that kind of stuff.”

Tittle also said that Verizon Wireless helped pay for part of the Wi-Fi network’s construction, and like at other NFL stadiums where Verizon has done so, it gets a separate SSID for its users at LaVell Edwards Stadium. Verizon also built the stadium’s DAS (back in 2017), which also supports communications from AT&T and T-Mobile. (More photos below)

Under-seat AP enclosure

A peek inside

The social media ribbon board above the stands

LaVell Edwards Stadium at night, with a view of the press/suites structure

Big Wi-Fi numbers for Big Red fans at Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium

A view of the west stands at Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

When you visit Memorial Stadium in Lincoln Neb. you can’t avoid a history of devotion to football and fans. The stadium itself still contains much of its old bones dating back to its inception in 1923, and when the red-clad faithful assemble for their football ceremonies, you can see generations of fans loyal to the Cornhuskers streaming in to fill the nearly 90,000 available seats.

Aside from the five national championships and many years of top-level success, the university takes care of the people responsible for sellouts dating back to the 1960s by keeping the stadium up to date with high-definition connectivity, inlcuding both cellular and Wi-Fi networks, and a wide range of digital displays for visual information and entertainment. In a recent visit to Memorial Stadium for a Saturday day game, Mobile Sports Report found excellent connectivity, especially on the Wi-Fi network, even in some areas where construction materials and stadium design presented unique challenges to wireless communications.

Nebraska fans have found the Wi-Fi as well, as according to statistics not released previously by the school Nebraska saw one game last season with 7.0 terabytes of Wi-Fi data used. Nebraska also saw a 6.3 TB game last season and started off 2018 with Wi-Fi totals of 6.3 TB and 6.2 TB, the first coming at a game that wasn’t even played due to massive rain and thunderstorm activity that canceled the event just after kickoff.

The connectivity reach even stretches out to some of the football parking lots, where external Wi-Fi AP placements keep fans connected while they are tailgating. What follows here is an on-the-scene description of what connectivity and the fan experience looks and feels like on yet another sellout day, this one from the Sept. 8 game versus old rival Colorado.

Getting ready for the red

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 DAS deployment at StubHub Center, a sneak peek at Milwaukee’s new Fiserv Forum, and a profile of the new Wi-Fi network being added to Wrigley Field! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY now!

A Ventev railing enclosure in the north stands

Even the day before the game, there was noticable excitement in Lincoln for Nebraska football, with groups of fans roaming around outside the stadium while VIP tours were taking place inside. On game day itself, the connectivity experience starts in the parking lots, where MSR saw Wi-Fi gear on light poles and sides of buildings that was clearly there to cover the tailgating activities. Stopping to check it out we found and quickly connected to the FanXP SSID, with no splash screen or email login required, just a quick connection to fast bandwidth. Throughout the day, the FanXP network connected and reconnected no matter where we roamed, or if we turned Wi-Fi off and on (as we do to test cellular signals).

With perhaps one of the most devoted fan bases in any sport — the team and the stadium have a record sellout streak dating back to 1962 — the Husker sports operation is well funded, meaning they don’t have to bother with concerns about whether or not Wi-Fi or other technologies produce any direct returns on investment. In turn, the school rewards its fans by staying at the forefront of stadium technology deployments, including being the first college stadium to install video boards, back in 1994. Wi-Fi using Cisco gear was first brought to Memorial Stadium for the 2014 season, and has since then gone through various upgrades and tunings, and now has 855 total Wi-Fi APs in the venue and the surrounding parking lots.

The current video board over the north end zone (which was the largest in the country when it was first installed) now is even sharper to look at, having gone through an upgrade last year from 20 millimeter pixel density to 10mm. Last year also saw the introduction of two two-sided “wrap-around” video screens on north sides of the east and west sections, providing video viewing for fans in the north stands who previously had to turn all the way around to see a screen. The north tower screens, as well as two other similar flat screens on the south sides of the east and west stands all also have 10mm pixel sharpness.

Also before last fall, ribbon boards on the east- and west-side balconies were replaced with 16mm displays that run the full length of the structures. An additional ribbon board was also added to the middle east balcony, providing even more inventory for messages, advertisements and game information. Overall, the venue has approximately 1,400 screens of various sizes and shapes to bring game day action, concessions menu and other communications to fans there for game day. Nebraska uses Cisco’s Cisco Vision (formerly known as Stadium Vision) to manage and operate all its digital signage from one central control.

North and South stands the biggest connectivity challenge

With the gates open and the stadium starting to fill up, MSR went directly to the north stands, which Nebraska IT operations manager Chad Chisea and director of information technology Dan Floyd had previously told us was the most challenging area to cover with wireless connectivity. With extremely wide rows of bench seating and no overhangs for antenna placements, Nebraska brought in small Wi-Fi antenna enclosures from Ventev and mounted them onto small “p-railings” that dot the aisles. The area is also covered by Wi-Fi antenna placements on top of the scoreboard structure pointing down.

A Wi-Fi enclosure points back up from field level

Though the section wasn’t completely full when we tested it, we still got a strong Wi-Fi mark of 28.5 Mbps download and 19.8 Mbps upload about halfway up the west corner side of the north stands. In another spot on the east side we got a test mark of 28.0 Mbps / 12.2 Mbps; and in possibly the hardest place to cover, as far as we could get from an aisle or the scoreboard, we still got a Wi-Fi test of 11.0 Mbps / 13.1 Mbps. DAS coverage for Verizon 4G LTE at the same spot was 16.9 Mbps download, but just 1.40 Mbps upload.

With more and more fans finding their way inside, we tested several spots on the concourses and found them with extremely strong coverage, including one mark of 63.8 Mbps / 61.1 Mbps just inside Gate 7. The concourse areas in several parts of the stadium are very architecturally interesting since there are some places where newer construction was simply placed outside the older structures, producing a kind of stadium-inside-a-stadium effect. Originally, the IT staff thought that Wi-Fi APs on the newer outside walls would be able to bleed through the old structures, which had glass windows along the old outside walls; but because those windows contain leaded glass (which shut out the Wi-Fi signals), Nebraska was forced to install APs on either side of the old walls.

Such attention to detail and a clear desire to keep fans connected no matter where they roam was evident in other places as well, such as finding strong Wi-Fi connectivity (30.6 Mbps / 15.2 Mbps) even while taking escalators up to the top levels of the east stands. In the top 600-level concourse we got Wi-Fi readings of 25.5 Mbps / 11.6 Mbps, and in row 5 of section 607 — about as high as you can go at Memorial Stadium — we got a Wi-Fi reading of 18.2 Mbps / 10.6 Mbps, most likely from the antennas mounted on the top railing of the stadium or on the LED light fixtures that also poke up from the east side.

Just before kickoff, we were in the middle of the lower-bowl seats on the west side of the stadium, where most fans were standing, phones ready to record the Cornhuskers as they came out of the locker room and took the field. With APs mounted on field-level railings pointing up probably providing coverage, we got a mark of 7.73 Mbps / 1.74 Mbps in the fifth row of seats.

Wi-Fi usage among the top of all venues

According to Floyd, only Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile use the stadium’s DAS network, which was built by Verizon. Since Verizon dominates the customer base of the Lincoln, Neb. area (Floyd estimates it has about 70 percent of the market), the other major carriers haven’t seen the need to participate in the DAS; instead, U.S. Cellular built a platform for macro antennas inside the north scoreboard area, and AT&T and Sprint use that area for similar deployments. For backhaul bandwidth for the Wi-Fi, Chisea said Nebraska has one circuit that transmits between 1.5 and 2 Gbps, along with a backup circuit that can carry 500 Mbps of traffic.

Children of the corn get ready for game day

And all those circuits and antennas got a free stress test during Nebraska’s first scheduled game of the season, a Sept. 1 contest against Akron that was cancelled almost immediately after kickoff when severe thunderstorms moved into the area. While the fans didn’t get to see any football, according to Floyd many stuck around for a considerable amount of time, using a full regular-game amount of wireless data — 6.3 TB of Wi-Fi — doing things like taking live Facebook Live video streams of the storm.

“If you looked at the network stream that day it was absolutely full,” Floyd said. For the Colorado game (a 33-28 Colorado victory), Nebraska reported 6.2 TB of Wi-Fi data used, with 34,728 peak concurrent connections on a day with 89,853 announced attendance. The top Wi-Fi game so far for Memorial Stadium, a 7.0 TB mark recorded on Sept. 2, 2017, saw 36,892 peak concurrent connections for a game with 90,171 in attendance. Nebraska saw an average of 5.93 TB and 31,115 peak concurrent connections per game in 2017, according to statistics provided to us by the school. An Oct. 7, 2017 game against Wisconsin also saw 6.3 TB of Wi-Fi data used.

With a constant attention to detail and a devotion to good network performance (during the Colorado game, MSR saw the Nebraska IT staff identify and fix a Wi-Fi network configuration issue that briefly impacted upload speeds) the Nebraska IT staff treats its stadium networks like a coach treats a team, always looking for ways to improve. So no matter what happens on the field, the faithful fans who fill the venue every game day can rest assured that if and when they want to use their mobile devices to connect, the Memorial Stadium networks will take them wherever they want to go.

More pictures from our visit below. Please download your free copy of our most recent Stadium Tech Report for all our photos from our Nebraska visit!

Lots of connectivity atop east stands makes for an easy upload of selfies

A look at one of the wrap-around video boards serving the north stands

Cisco Vision at work on concession stand menu displays

Artsy panoramic view from the north seats

Wi-Fi upgrade producing solid results for Denver Broncos at Mile High

A fan walks by a railing wireless enclosure in the upper deck of Broncos Stadium at Mile High during the Oct. 1 game against the Kansas City Chiefs. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

As the Denver Broncos’ Wi-Fi network upgrade nears its final steps of completion, solid coverage around the venue now known as Broncos Stadium at Mile High is producing Wi-Fi data totals averaging more than 6 terabytes per game, according to statistics from the team.

During a recent game-day visit to Mile High, Mobile Sports Report got consistent high-bandwidth readings for Wi-Fi throughout the venue, and into the parking lots as well. Multiple speed tests recorded bandwidth marks in the high double-digits of megabits per second, even at the top reaches of the stands as well as in other hard-to-cover areas, like concourses and plazas.

And even as Russ Trainor, Broncos’ senior vice president for information technology, and his networking team put the final tuning touches on an expansion that will end with somewhere near 1,500 Cisco Wi-Fi APs installed throughout the building, the football (and concert) fans who have shown up lately are already finding ways to use lots of Wi-Fi data. In the first three home games of the Broncos’ current regular season, Trainor said the Wi-Fi network has seen total single-day usage numbers of 6.4 TB, 6.3 TB and 6.2 TB, the latter coming during the exciting Monday Night Football game Oct. 1 versus the Kansas City Chiefs.

More APs coming for gate areas, concourses

“We still have a few more APs to add,” said Trainor in a quick interview during the Chiefs game, which MSR attended. And while Trainor added that the team is also planning to step up its promotion of the network, many fans are finding it already, as proven by some other high-water marks this year that include a peak of 32,837 concurrent users during the home opener on Sept. 9; peak throughput of 10.83 Gbps on Sept. 16; and the most unique connections, 42,981, on Oct. 1.

Parking lots are well-covered at Mile High

Because many of the new APs are the new Cisco 3800 Series with two radios, Trainor is confident the Broncos Stadium network is far from maxing out.

“We still have room to grow folks onto the system, and we’ll continue to advertise that network for the fans,” Trainor said.

During our visit at the Oct. 1 game, MSR was impressed the moment we got out of our car in the parking lot, when we recorded a Wi-Fi mark of 28.3 Mbps down and 56.5 Mbps up. As a Verizon customer we were automatically connected to the stadium’s Wi-Fi network, one of the perks that came with Verizon’s investments in the Wi-Fi and DAS networks at the stadium.

Inside the premium-seating United Club area, we got a Wi-Fi mark of 48.0 Mbps / 70.3 Mbps, even as fans crowded the open dining hall during pregame. We also saw some cool new food-station kiosks along one wall, each with its own connected display for menu items as well as a touchscreen payment system (a turnkey deployment from Centerplate, Tapin2, and PingHD) that eliminated the need for additional concessions staffers.

Up on the top-level concourse we saw APs every other wall section with two antennas pointing in opposite directions, coverage that produced one mark of 31.8 Mbps / 68.2 Mbps even as fans crowded the stands to get food and drink before kickoff. According to Trainor the concourse areas will get roughly a doubling of coverage with more APs next year, to support a plan to move to more digital payment methods.

A good look at the hardened, single-cable Wi-Fi APs in the walkway ramps area. According to the Broncos these use POE (power over Ethernet), cutting down on the conduit needed.

Out in the upper-level stands (Section 541, row 5) we got a Wi-Fi mark of 36.0 Mbps / 29.6 Mbps, in an area where we could see APs pointing down on the seats from the top-level light standards as well as in railing enclosures. Some areas in the upper deck are also covered by under-seat APs, which also are used in the south end zone stands where there is no overhang infrastructure.

We also got good connectivity in an often overlooked area, the walkway ramps and escalators behind the seats, where the Broncos installed some APs that use power over Ethernet and weather-hardened enclosures since those areas are more open to weather. While riding up on an escalator we not only stayed connected but got a test mark of 26.4 Mbps / 37.6 Mbps.

Keeping crowds of fans connected

In perhaps one of the biggest stress tests we could find, the Mile High Wi-Fi had no problem keeping fans connected. Just before halftime we planted ourselves on the outdoor plaza behind the south stands, and waited for fans to crowd the area during the break. With a Wi-Fi mark of 38.4 Mbps / 35.7 Mbps second five minutes into the halftime break, we were still able to easily view video highlights of the first half even as everyone around us was using their phones to check email or to connect with friends and family.

As the second-half kickoff neared, we walked into the main concourse underneath the west stands and still stayed solidly connected, with a mark of 33.0 Mbps / 59.1 Mbps in the middle of a thick crowd of fans who were either waiting for concessions or walking back to their seats.

With a high-water mark of 8.1 TB for a Taylor Swift concert earlier this spring, the new Wi-Fi network in Broncos Stadium at Mile High showed that it’s more than ready for big games or other big events. Some more photos from our visit below!

Nothing like Monday Night Football!

Fans gather on the south stands plaza during halftime

Close-up of an AP install on the back wall facing out into the south stands plaza

United Club dining area with single-stand kiosks in back

Single-stand food kiosk with its own display and self-service payment terminal (from PingHD)

AP deployment on top-level concourse

AP deployment (on post) in lower concourse area

Chargers, Mobilitie pump up the DAS at StubHub Center

While the new LA stadium is being built, the soccer-specific StubHub Center is the home to the NFL’s Los Angeles Chargers. Credit all photos: Terry Sweeney, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

Mention StubHub Center to your average sports fan in southern California and they’ll likely assume you’re talking about soccer’s LA Galaxy or the Los Angeles Chargers, the recently relocated NFL franchise subletting space while its permanent stadium gets built.

But StubHub Center, built on the campus of California State University/Dominguez Hills, also includes a velodrome, an 8,000-seat tennis stadium (with several adjacent courts), and an outdoor track and field facility. Throw in the far-flung parking lots and it adds up to 125 acres that all need wireless connectivity.

With such wide spaces to cover, StubHub management opted not to spend on fan-facing Wi-Fi and instead focused on distributed antenna system (DAS) technology to keep fans and tailgaters connected. Katie Pandolfo, StubHub’s general manager, looked to the major cellular carriers to invest in and support the connectivity needs of Galaxy and Chargers fans, and other eventgoers at the open-air StubHub.

Carriers help bear the cost of connectivity

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 Wi-Fi at Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium, a sneak peek at Milwaukee’s new Fiserv Forum, and a profile of the new Wi-Fi network being added to Wrigley Field! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY now!

Katie Pandolfo, StubHub’s general manager

“With our DAS-only approach, the investment is 100 percent on the carriers and doesn’t cost us anything,” Pandolfo told Mobile Sports Report. While they got a few complaints about no public Wi-Fi during events in 2017, when the 29-zone DAS system was activated, fans quickly acclimated and now use bandwidth from Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon on the shared network. AT&T isn’t part of the DAS system, but has operated a macro site at StubHub for years, according to Pandolfo.

Mobilitie helped build StubHub’s DAS system and offered its engineering expertise; the turnkey provider also manages the system. The DAS-only approach is common in southern California; in addition to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, the Honda Center in Anaheim and Viejas Arena (under construction) at San Diego State University are also DAS-only venues with no fan-facing Wi-Fi.

StubHub Center, located in Carson, Calif., is 17 miles south of downtown Los Angeles, and upwind from a nearby Goodyear blimp mooring station; gusty coastal winds apparently make this a good training ground for new blimp pilots. The 27,000-seat StubHub originally opened in 2003 as Home Depot Center; the new sponsor came onboard in 2013. Anschutz Entertainment Group owns and operates StubHub Center.

StubHub will handle several events when Los Angeles hosts the Summer Olympics in 2028, including bicycle track racing, field hockey, pentathlon, rugby and tennis. Pandolfo expects firmer plans for the venue’s technology needs to emerge sometime in the next couple years. Technology – especially wireless technology – will change a lot in that time, she noted.

As the second soccer-specific stadium built in the U.S., Major League Soccer’s LA Galaxy is the venue’s premier tenant. But in 2017 when the National Football League’s Chargers moved from San Diego to Los Angeles, the facility underwent some major upgrades. Additions include 1,000 new tip-up seats replacing bleachers on the east side of the stadium; another 330 bleacher seats were added in StubHub’s southeast corner. Luxury suites and the press box were renovated along with two new radio booths; they also added a security office for police and NFL officials, and camera booths at the two 20-yard lines and at the 50-yard line. Locker rooms were enlarged as was the press conference room.

DAS antennas look down from atop a wall

And tempting as it may be to lump all fans of any sport into a single heap, Pandolfo said Galaxy fans and Chargers fans behave very differently at StubHub Center. Chargers fans like to get up and walk around, visit concessions and take advantage of the venue’s amenities during the game. Not so for Galaxy fans, who tend to stay seated and don’t want to miss any of the action, she explained.

California’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control also just changed its rules and will now allow beer sales up and down the aisles of stadiums like StubHub Center. Beer hawking, she noted, didn’t used to be digital and required fans to pay cash. “Now it’s a quicker transaction that improves the fan experience,” using mobile pay systems or credit cards, Pandolfo said.

DAS upgrades mean faster speeds

In the meantime, Mobilitie continues to optimize StubHub’s DAS system; based on bandwidth speed tests conducted by Mobile Sports Report, things are moving in the right direction. MSR tested Verizon DAS connectivity right after the system was installed in August 2017, and a year later during a Chargers’ pre-season game against New Orleans. In 2017, Verizon’s DAS struggled in single-digit Mbps uploads and downloads; quite often, the throughput was even less.

What a difference a year makes. Mobilitie engineers’ fine-tuning has paid off; August 2018 tests show dramatic improvement, with the highest throughputs near the stadium’s northwest concessions area — 111.39 Mbps/12.15 Mbps (download/upload). A year previous, things were a lot more sluggish with 0.95 Mbps/0.04 Mbps speeds recorded in the same area.

Overhangs provide good places for equipment mounts

DAS performance has also improved just inside the gates past the ticket scanners at the bottom of the stairs; in 2017, we clocked only 1.87 Mbps/13.42 Mbps, but more recently throughput had jumped to 87.08 Mbps/21.42 Mbps. The concession area on the east side of the stadium checked in most recently at 76.55 Mbps/6.7 Mbps, another sizeable increase from last year when Verizon DAS throughput was a pokey 0.4 Mbps/0.06 Mbps.

Speeds inside the stadium have also improved year-over-year. Section 230 in the northeast corner of StubHub measured 2.83 Mbps/1.96 Mbps a year ago, but were up to 13.48 Mbps/8.71 Mbps in August 2018. Similarly, the sunny northern end of the stadium above the end zone delivered 0.21 Mbps/0.27 Mbps a year ago, but jumped to a more acceptable 16.44 Mbps/18.27 Mbps. The east side of the stadium is also more robust; a year ago, bandwidth tests yielded 3.1 Mbps/0.01 Mbps, but were up to 8.97 Mbps/1.74 Mbps.

Improvements to the DAS network performance can only help improve the fan experience at StubHub Center. Pandolfo wants fans to be able to do everything faster: Get parked faster, enter the stadium, and take advantage of all the food, drink and merchandise options. “We look at the whole package and then at the network we have to provide to make that happen,” she said. “We’re looking at it from the fan experience but also how to optimize revenue for the building.” It’s the right formula for sporting venues compelled to balance technology requirements against dollars and cents.

Paying for beer with a fingerprint gets thumbs-up at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field

A fan at a Seattle Seahawks game pays for concessions using his fingerprint, via the Clear system. Credit all photos: David Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

Seattle football and soccer fans are giving a big thumbs-up to a new concessions system at CenturyLink Field that lets them buy a beer or other items simply by tapping their fingerprint at payment time.

Clear, the same firm that gives travelers a way to pay for access to faster security lines at airports, is now moving into sports venues with a free version of its plan to let fans enter stadiums via special “Clear” lines. In Seattle, Clear and the Seahawks and Sounders are also testing a point-of-sale system where registered Clear users can pay for concessions and be age-verified by simply tapping their finger on a special concession-stand device. Currently, the system is only in use at four concession stands at CenturyLink but Seattle network executives said there are plans to expand the offering as the seasons progress. The system was also used earlier this season at the Seattle Mariners’ home, Safeco Field.

With more than 1,500 football and soccer fans having signed up for Clear at the stadium through the first week of October, Clear and CenturyLink are now seeing an average of around 1,000 fans using Clear to enter the stadium per football game and 200-plus similar verifications at Seattle Sounders games, according to statistics provided to MSR by Chip Suttles, vice president of technology for the Seahawks. The stadium started offering the service this preseason for both the NFL and MLS events. Fans who had previously signed up for Clear either at airports or online can use that same membership to enter the stadium.

The workings of the concession system are pretty simple: Once a user signs up for Clear — which requires personal data including age and a valid credit card — the user orders food and drink at the concession stand window, then completes the transaction with a fingertip tap in a special counter device. The biometrics confirm both that a user is old enough to purchase alcohol, and has a valid credit card to bill, eliminating the need for personal eyewitness verification of I.D. and the time needed to transact via credit card or cash.

At the Seahawks’ Oct. 7 home game against the Los Angeles Rams, another 199 fans enrolled for the Clear system on-site, and 911 fans used Clear to get into the venue, according to Suttles. The Clear system was used for 239 concession transactions at the game.

Speeding up the concessions lines

Fans could sign up for Clear inside and outside CenturyLink Field.


While the numbers may seem small right now, the promise of using technology to produce much faster concessions transactions are a welcome beginning to an area of stadium operations that in many places seems stuck in the far past, with cash transactions and counter staffers who take orders, fulfill them and then take payments.

“We are always looking for new, innovative ways to enhance the fan experience,” said Suttles, who said feedback so far from Seahawks and Sounders fans has been overwhelmingly positive. David Kapustka, Seattle Bureau Chief for Mobile Sports Report, attended the Seahawks’ Sept. 23 home game against the Dallas Cowboys and did an on-site test of the Clear system, and not just for the free beer Clear was offering as a sign-up promotion.

Once signed up for the system, Kapustka reported that the concession-stand finger-scan interaction “took less than a minute,” though there was some waiting beforehand to order since the Clear payment lanes share space with regular ordering and payment lanes at the two stands where the Clear service was offered that day.

The only drawbacks Kapustka saw for the Clear operation had mainly to do with its popularity, as a long line of fans queued up before the game to sign up at a Clear kiosk, ironically causing some delay for fans getting into the stadium. Once inside, one request Kapustka heard from fans was to have more Clear-enabled lines, feedback that Clear and the network folks are probably glad to hear. (More photos from our visit below)

Like many venues, CenturyLink Field has long lines for entry security measures

The Clear sign-up kiosk outside the stadium

A long line before the game started to sign up for Clear

One of the Clear-enabled concession stands at CenturyLink Field. Note the non-existent line at the Clear lane

Another fan taps a fingertip to pay

Good promotion

There’s good Wi-Fi at CenturyLink too