August 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.

Jaguars get out of SignalShare deal, turn to PCM for EverBank Field Wi-Fi management

Pregame activity at EverBank Field last weekend. Credit: Jaguars.com.

Pregame activity at EverBank Field last weekend. Credit: Jaguars.com.

When Wi-Fi design and implementation firm SignalShare legally imploded earlier this year, one of the biggest questions that surfaced was — what would happen to teams and stadiums who had contracted with SignalShare to run their Wi-Fi networks? The Jacksonville Jaguars, who a couple years ago announced big plans with SignalShare, have gotten out of their contract with the now-bankrupt SignalShare and have turned to integrator PCM to manage the Wi-Fi network at EverBank Field, team officials said.

Mike Webb, director of IT with the Jaguars, said in a phone interview that the team was “able to terminate” its 3-year deal with SignalShare with help from Wi-Fi gear provider Extreme, which was part of the original deal. PCM has also teamed up with Extreme to run the Wi-Fi network at the Tennessee Titans’ Nissan Stadium. Neither SignalShare nor NFS Leasing has responded to any queries about the legal actions; Extreme Networks has also refused to comment on any specifics of any SignalShare-related deals.

While the original deal called for big plans to bring exclusive content to fans at EverBank Field via SignalShare’s portal software, Webb said that currently there is no stadium-specific or game-day app for Jaguars fans. He also said that Comcast sponsors the Wi-Fi connection (as it does at many other stadiums), with fans logging on by connecting to the xfintitywifi SSID.

Adding more APs for patios, new construction

Currently, EverBank Field has 650 Extreme Wi-Fi APs in the venue, with approximately 450 of those in the seating bowl, Webb said. Over the past offseason, the stadium added Wi-Fi coverage to five new areas, mainly patios outside club areas as well as to the South end zone tunnel, which will eventually connect to the theater that is being built outside the stadium.

For the lower level of seating, Webb said Wi-Fi APs are installed in railing enclosures, while higher-level seats are served by overhead mounts. While Webb said the network initially “had some issues” with 2.4 GHz band activity, the addition of more 5 GHz capacity helped to “vastly increase performance.” The Wi-Fi network now regularly sees 14,000 connections per game, Webb said.

More cellular capacity is also on the way to EverBank Field, as Webb said that two (unnamed) wireless carriers have agreed on a plan to build a DAS in the facility for outside seating coverage.

‘Super Bowl’ atmosphere produces 4.32 TB of Wi-Fi use at Vikings’ U.S. Bank Stadium regular-season opener

Overhead photo of the Vikings' regular-season opener at U.S. Bank Stadium. Credit all photos: Vikings.com.

Overhead photo of the Vikings’ regular-season opener at U.S. Bank Stadium. Credit all photos: Vikings.com.

A “Super Bowl” atmosphere with plenty of built-in social media sharing moments helped push the NFL regular-season opener at U.S. Bank Stadium to a total of 4.32 terabytes of data used on the Wi-Fi network, according to Minnesota Vikings networking officials.

The Vikings’ 17-14 win over the rival Green Bay Packers on Sept. 18 christened the stadium in fine fashion, with 66,800 fans packing the new arena. Even without any promotion for the network or the accompanying team app, almost 32,000 of the fans present logged on to the Wi-Fi network at some point of the game day, according to Tod Caflisch, vice president and chief technical officer for Minnesota Vikings Football. The network also saw a peak concurrent-user mark of 17,500, according to Caflisch.

In addition to the exciting game, the first regular season NFL game at U.S. Bank Stadium saw extensive pregame activities, including historic Vikings player introductions, a mock Viking ship with a fire-breathing dragon, and former Vikings coach Bud Grant blowing the Gjallarhorn. The day also included a halftime show with an orchestra and a Prince tribute, a list of events that no doubt produced multiple selfies, photos and videos shared quickly over social media via the in-stadium network.

No promotion for Wi-Fi, app or food ordering

“I’m not surprised [at the data and connection numbers],” said Caflisch, citing all the festive happenings. Adding to the network usage was also the fact that many fans may have been visiting the stadium for the first time, and recording those moments, a process that had Caflisch worried beforehand about Wi-Fi coverage near the main entry.

Fans gathering outside U.S. Bank Stadium before the game.

Fans gathering outside U.S. Bank Stadium before the game.

“My biggest concern was the huge crowds waiting outside the security area before the start of the game,” Caflisch said. As part of their deal with team app provider VenueNext, U.S. Bank Stadium is also using the firm’s ticket scanners, which run on Wi-Fi.

“We have Wi-Fi there for the ticket scanning, but I was a little concerned about how the sheer density of people would affect the scanning,” Caflisch said. As it turned out, all systems were go, even with the big number of fans coming in the large glass-door gateways.

“It was a non-factor,” Caflisch said.

Other than a few small issues with specific Wi-Fi APs, Caflisch said the Cisco gear-based Wi-Fi and IPTV networks “really worked well” for the home opener, perhaps the sternest test yet for the new deployment from network design and deployment firm AmpThink. Caflisch, who joined the Vikings’ tech team this past summer from the Detroit Red Wings’ Joe Louis Arena, said he initially “had my reservations” about the stadium’s use of railing-mounted APs as the main delivery system in the seating bowl.

Hall of Fame head coach Bud Grant blows the Gjallarhorn.

Hall of Fame head coach Bud Grant blows the Gjallarhorn.

“I had not heard of a railing solution being the main plan — mostly I’d seen it as a retrofit,” said Caflisch. “But the numbers we’ve seen shows it’s working very well.”

While he didn’t provide a number, Caflisch also said that use of the express food ordering service in the team app doubled from preseason totals, again without any external promotion. Right now, the service, which lets fans order and pay for concessions via their phone and then pick up the food and drink at an express window, is only available to certain parts of the stadium.

“We haven’t promoted the app, the ordering or the Wi-Fi to wait and see what the stress loads were,” Caflisch said. “We’re definitely planning to promote all three now.”

Patriots upgrade Wi-Fi at Gillette Stadium for 2016 season

Gillette Stadium before the Sept. 18 game vs. the Miami Dolphins. Credit: Steve Milne, AP, via Patriots.com

Gillette Stadium before the Sept. 18 game vs. the Miami Dolphins. Credit: Steve Milne, AP, via Patriots.com

Gillette Stadium, one of the first NFL arenas to have fan-facing Wi-Fi, more than doubled the number of access points in the venue this past offseason, according to team executives.

Fred Kirsch, who goes by the curious title of publisher & vice president of content at Kraft Sports Productions, is well known in stadium tech circles as the overseer of all things technology for the New England Patriots operation. In a recent phone interview, Kirsch said “the timing was right” for a Wi-Fi upgrade at Gillette, a venue that has had fan-facing Wi-Fi since 2012. The team’s first full-stadium network was installed by Enterasys Networks, which was later acquired by Extreme; prior to that, Gillette Stadium had Wi-Fi for luxury suites and clubs provided by gear from Xirrus.

“The [Wi-Fi] overall technology has changed, so we can really improve it now,” said Kirsch about the team’s decision to beef up its wireless network. With new Wi-Fi standards now in most equipment, Kirsch said it was possible to “put in a lot more APs without channel bleed. All over the stadium, we have better coverage.”

Going under-seat in the bowl

According to Kirsch, Gillette Stadium had previously had about 400 Wi-Fi APs in the original design. After the upgrade was over, Kirsch said the stadium now has more than 1,000 APs, with most of the new devices deployed under seats in the bowl seating areas, the latest team to join this growing deployment trend.

In most of the bowl, Kirsch said his team was able to core through the concrete to install the APs; however, some parts of the stadium sit directly upon granite, leading Kirsch and his crew to improvise a cable-and-tray system to get cabling to the APs under the seats. This procedure necessitated custom-designed enclosures, which introduced a small delay in construction procedures, according to Kirsch.

On the game-day application side of things, Kirsch said that the team’s YinzCam-developed app will support faster access to instant replays, and will also add in a third-party option for fans to take a picture of something that might seem astray (like, perhaps, a broken pipe in a restroom) and send it in via the app. Kirsch said the app will be able to geo-locate where the picture came from, giving the team a precise location of the problem.