September 23, 2017

IBM lands tech deal for new L.A. soccer stadium

Artist rendering of Banc of California Stadium, slated to open in 2018. Credit: LAFC

Artist rendering of Banc of California Stadium, slated to open in 2018. Credit: LAFC

IBM’s growing sports-venue technology business landed its first soccer-specific client, with the announcement that IBM will lead all technology deployments at the Los Angeles Football Club’s Banc of California Stadium, a venue scheduled to open in 2018.

Like it has at Texas A&M’s Kyle Field and the Atlanta Falcons’ new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, IBM will act as a lead general contractor of sorts for technology at the under-construction 22,000-seat Banc of California Stadium, responsible for picking vendors and leading deployment for such features as Wi-Fi and cellular networks, digital signage, and as yet-to-be determined fan experience applications and services.

The MLS expansion team LAFC, which will begin play in 2018, has a star-studded ownership group that includes names like former pro athletes Magic Johnson and Nomar Garciaparra, actor Will Ferrell and Golden State Warriors owner Peter Guber, among others. The new stadium is being built on the space once held by the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, adjacent to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. According to the team website the stadium will have clear-plastic shields overhead to reduce sun glare and reflect heat, made of the same ETFE plastic used in the clear window sides of the Minnesota Vikings’ U.S. Bank Stadium.

Though IBM was not yet ready to name specific vendors or any specific apps or services that will be available at the new stadium, it did say that its contract with LAFC shows that IBM’s strategy of having a single integrator in charge of all technology deployments isn’t just for huge stadiums or big new projects like Atlanta’s new venue.

Construction-cam shot at home of future Banc of California Stadium. Credit: LAFC

Construction-cam shot at home of future Banc of California Stadium. Credit: LAFC

“As [stadium network] technology evolves, it just becomes more complex, whether it’s a small venue or a large one,” said Jim Rushton, global leader for the sports & entertainment practice for IBM. “Our methodology is the same.”

Just like a lead contractor for plumbing or electricity, Rushton said that IBM’s size and purchasing power gives it an edge that individual venues might not have. Rushton also said that IBM’s ability to oversee all parts of a venue’s technology offerings — from wireless infrastructure to network security and application development — and its ability to integrate technologies from firms other than IBM — can help venues plan more strategically and put together a more complete venue-technology plan than they might be able to do on their own.

Rushton said that IBM’s sports venue practice, which was formally announced a year ago, will be naming more projects underway soon, including some in Europe. IBM is rumored to be the lead technology integrator for the stadium renovation that will be taking place at Notre Dame after this football season, but there has been no announcement of that yet.

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Cisco deploys Wi-Fi network at San Jose Sharks’ SAP Center

SAP Center, home of the San Jose Sharks. Credit: SanJoseSharks.com.

SAP Center, home of the San Jose Sharks. Credit: SanJoseSharks.com.

The San Jose Sharks have announced a new Wi-Fi network for their home arena, SAP Center — one that will use Cisco Wi-Fi gear as well as Cisco’s StadiumVision system for digital-display content management.

San Jose Sharks chief operating officer John Tortora said that the new Wi-Fi network — believed to be the first full public Wi-Fi deployment in the building — joins a new team app developed by VenueNext as part of a big revamp for the technology-related fan experience at the so-called “Shark Tank.”

According to the Sharks, the Wi-Fi network will have 500 access points, with 50 of those mounted in handrail enclosures in the lower seating bowl; another 17 APs will be located under seats in the retractable seating sections of the arena. Wi-Fi design and deployment firm AmpThink helped install the new network, which is slated to go live by Dec. 1, the Sharks said.

“To complement our new Sharks app and the use of it at SAP Center, we are in the process of deploying Cisco Connected Stadium Wi-Fi, a best-in-class Wi-Fi platform used in sports venues around the world,” Tortora said in an email communication. “We want our patrons to be able to easily and reliably connect while at SAP Center to allow for the best fan experience when attending Sharks games and other events.”

Sharks fans at Wednesday night’s home opener may have noticed some of the other technical enhancements to the arena, which include 13 new LED panels and 625 new digital displays. The Cisco StadiumVision system allows for remote control and synchronization of digital display content, including the ability to split screens to show things like live video alongside static advertising.

Until the Wi-Fi network goes live, SAP Center attendees should still be able to connect via an in-stadium distributed antenna system (DAS) run by AT&T, which also carries Verizon Wireless signals.

VenueNext lands $15 million Series B funding, adds San Jose Sharks as 1st NHL client

Screenshot from new San Jose Sharks app developed by VenueNext. Credit: VenueNext

Screenshot from new San Jose Sharks app developed by VenueNext. Credit: VenueNext

Stadium and venue app developer VenueNext has secured a $15 million Series B round of financing, as well as its first National Hockey League client, the San Jose Sharks.

Both announcements were made by VenueNext Tuesday, just ahead of Wednesday’s season opener for the Sharks at SAP Center in San Jose. The new app is ready for fans to download in time for the Sharks’ game against the Los Angeles Kings. Later this season fans will also be able to connect via the arena’s new Wi-Fi network, which will use Wi-Fi gear from Cisco.

The new round of funding brings VenueNext’s total of announced venture capital to $24 million, following a $9 million round raised last summer. Causeway Media Partners, which led the initial round, is also leading the new round; according to VenueNext some of its first-round investors are also participating in the B round, but the company did not yet name any of them other than Causeway. Twitter, Live Nation and Aruba were among the Series A investors in VenueNext.

Adding hospitality and healthcare to market targets

In the increasingly competitive market for stadium and team application development, VenueNext has had a solid year in breaking away from just being the app provider to the San Francisco 49ers and Levi’s Stadium, its initial offering. So far this year, new VenueNext apps have appeared at Super Bowl 50, Yankee Stadium, Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby, and at the Minnesota Vikings’ new home, U.S. Bank Stadium. VenueNext also announced a new app being developed for the Saratoga and Belmont horse-racing tracks, which will be launched next year.

SAP Center, home of the San Jose Sharks. Credit: SanJoseSharks.com.

SAP Center, home of the San Jose Sharks. Credit: SanJoseSharks.com.

While VenueNext still hasn’t come close to publicly announcing the 30 clients CEO John Paul said the company would have by the end of 2015, the list of announced clients now includes the 49ers and Super Bowl 50, the Dallas Cowboys, the Orlando Magic, and now the San Jose Sharks. According to VenueNext, it does have clients signed already in the healthcare and hospitality markets, but cannot name them due to confidentiality agreements. VenueNext said it will announce more customers in the next few months.

Sharks fans get beverage, not food, delivery to seats — for now

One of the signature VenueNext services at Levi’s Stadium, the ability for all fans to use the app to order concessions delivered to their seats, will initially only support in-seat beverage ordering and delivery for Sharks fans, according to VenueNext. That service is similar to how the VenueNext app was used at Super Bowl 50. Other new services now available at SAP Center via the app include digital ticketing, with the ability to view, upgrade or transfer tickets; the ability to view and manage parking passes; mobile ticket access via the VenueNext ticket kiosks; and team content.

According to Sharks chief operating officer John Tortora, the team was first introduced to VenueNext during the NHL Stadium Series game at Levi’s Stadium in February of 2015.

“We were impressed with their execution at that event and have witnessed the business success they have generated at sports venues throughout the country,” said Tortora of VenueNext in an email communiction. “We look to bring that standard to SAP Center.” According to Tortora, wayfinding and virtual reality experiences are among features that will be added to the app in the future.

The Sharks app page also says that during the season the app will add a large list of Sharks-related content, including team and league stats, and it will also add in-game trivia contests. So far in most of its deployments, VenueNext has added and improved features in its apps over time.

On the Wi-Fi side, the venue is now getting its first full-scale Wi-Fi network for fans, a deployment that will include the use of Cisco StadiumVision for digital-display controls. According to the Sharks, the Wi-Fi network is expected to be operational by Dec. 1.

“To complement our new Sharks app and the use of it at SAP Center, we are in the process of deploying Cisco Connected Stadium Wi-Fi, a best-in-class Wi-Fi platform used in sports venues around the world,” Tortora said. “We want our patrons to be able to easily and reliably connect while at SAP Center to allow for the best fan experience when attending Sharks games and other events.”

VenueNext said it now has 90 employees, with offices in Santa Clara, Calif., San Francisco, New York and London. The new funds, the company said, will be used to “continue to innovate on our platform,” and also to help launch the new vertical markets as well as expansion to international clients.

Ballmer’s energy, enthusiasm will push fan-viewing technology for Clippers, NBA

Clippers owner Steve Ballmer (L) talks with John Ourand at the Sports Media & Technology conference. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

Clippers owner Steve Ballmer (L) talks with John Ourand at the Sports Media & Technology conference. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

As a longtime tech reporter it was a bit of a flashback to see former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer holding center stage at a conference, even if this one was centered around sports and not anything to do with PCs or Windows.

There was no dancing through the spotlights, but even in a sit-down setting you couldn’t hide Ballmer’s enthusiasm for technology, now focused on improving the fan experience for watching NBA basketball games, specifically those involving the Los Angeles Clippers, the team Ballmer now owns.

“I am excited for the future of technology and how it could make it REALLY more fun to watch sports,” Baller said to interviewer John Ourand, a writer with Sports Business Journal, the hosts of the 2016 NeuLion Sports Media & Technology conference held at the Manhattan Beach Marriott. If you’ve ever heard Ballmer speak live you know the voice pitch that escalated on that “REALLY” part, a volume increase guaranteed to ensure you’re paying attention.

Now one of the most visible NBA owner-fans, Ballmer told event attendees Wednesday how his team’s new rights deal with Fox’s regional sports network would help the Clippers experiment with more innovative viewing options, including over-the-top streaming game broadcasts.

Watching the game through a player’s view

But put aside for a moment the concerns about old-school broadcast rights — according to Ballmer what he really wanted out of the most-recent deal was breathing room to try new things, like having game views with statistics and other information overlaid or available in pop-out windows; or different camera views, including a VR-like view of the game from a player’s eyes.

Screenshot of fan-info TV 'overlays' that might enhance NBA broadcasts.

Screenshot of fan-info TV ‘overlays’ that might enhance NBA broadcasts.

“We needed a relationship that would allow us to innovate,” said Ballmer of the recent media deal, one where he dismissed the final dollar figure [worth $50 million to $55 millon per season] as “money is just an arm-wrestle.” Instead of crowing about getting piles of dough for TV rights, Ballmer was clearly more excited about ideas like being able to have player fantasy stats super-imposed over that player’s jersey while live action went on, among other plans.

“I want to watch a game as [Clippers point guard] Chris Paul, to see what he sees,” Ballmer said. “That would be a cool view of a game.”

Meet the new boss, different than the old boss

While such ideas are not completely new — others in and around sports have been thinking up such ideas and even trying them out — what’s different with the Clippers and the NBA is Ballmer’s energy, and the ability to not have to care about making money right away given his uber-billionaire wealth. I never worked for Microsoft or Ballmer but from the outside looking in it was pretty easy to see that Ballmer has never been a sit-around-and-wait kind of guy. When talking about the excitement of working with innovative sports-tech firms like Second Spectrum and NeuLion on his player’s-eye cam idea, Ballmer didn’t hesitate to put a timeline on the project.

“I’m going to be highly, highly, HIGHLY disappointed” if the Chris-Paul view isn’t available in 3-4 years, Ballmer said, laughing that it’s always best to put public pressure on engineers to get them to deliver more quickly. And while he’s frustrated by the delays caused by long-term rights deals, the opportunity to rework the Clippers’ local rights gave him a door to push open. And like always, Ballmer didn’t come in quietly.

“I didn’t want to wait to get started,” Ballmer said. “I’ve got a passion for the technology and we were at the end of the contract so… BOOM! Let’s go ahead and move forward.”

Ballmer also talked about the idea of building a new Clippers arena somewhere down the road, and about using technology to let fans at games have a better experience, like being able to upgrade your seat during the event. Dreaming about a new venue specifically built for basketball, Ballmer thought out loud about the benefits of having fans closer to the action, with an increased list of tech-aided amenities.

“The technology of arena design is advancing, too,” Ballmer said, pointing to such new structures as Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center. “You have to figure out how to serve the modern fan.” Will Ballmer in charge, it’s a safe bet that Clippers fans may be among the first to be so served.

Verizon correcting bills to make sure NFL streaming is really ‘free’

Screen Shot 2016-09-09 at 10.29.06 PMIf you are a Verizon Wireless customer who rejoiced at the announcement earlier this fall that the wireless carrier wouldn’t charge for data used for watching live NFL action via its NFL Mobile app, you can stay happy — even if you do initially see some data charges on your monthly bill.

After being alerted by a Mobile Sports Report reader that data charges were still showing up after a user watched some NFL games, we asked Verizon if their promotion was up and working. According to an email response from an unnamed Verizon authority, it appears that while Verizon was making the NFL action free, the streaming of ads was not — but never fear, Verizon said it is crediting users’ bills for any ads watched while watching football via the NFL Mobile app.

Here is the official response we got from Verizon’s PR company, attributed to “someone at Verizon” (seriously, that’s how it was worded to us):

“The NFL live games are automatically zero rated so they won’t count against customer’s data. Ads during the games are not, but we are issuing customers additional data (1GB or more depending on each customer’s NFL streaming) or post bill credits to cover the usage incurred from the ads. That process is disclosed in the disclaimers and the bonus data is issued automatically when a customer streams an NFL live game. We are monitoring this closely to make sure all customers do get a truly free NFL experience with a combination of automatic zero rating, additional data or bill credits as needed.”

As you continue to watch for free maybe give a shout out to Gary for spending 40 minutes on the phone with Verizon customer support, a painful experience we know well. Anyone else still seeing data charges for football with no refunds, let us know.

Come join our new LinkedIn Group: Mobile Sports Report Stadium Tech News!

Screen Shot 2016-10-03 at 11.33.54 AMDon’t know why it took us so long to create this group but the long wait is over — come join the Mobile Sports Report Stadium Tech News group! Unfortunately LinkedIn only let us send out a small number of initial invites but no worries, the group is open to anyone interested in our daily news and analysis of the stadium technology marketplace.

In addition to our own news and analysis, and excerpts from our quarterly reports, we’ll link to other interesting stories we see across the web, and members are also encouraged to join in and share what they see or what they’re thinking acheter levitra. If you’re on LinkedIn just search for the group and ask to join. If you haven’t LinkedIn with us yet, send me an invite and we’ll get that taken care of… welcome aboard!