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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New Report: Carolina Panthers build new Wi-Fi and DAS; Mercedes-Benz Stadium update, and more!

Q3thumbMobile Sports Report is pleased to announce the Q3 issue of our STADIUM TECH REPORT series, the ONLY in-depth publication created specifically for the stadium technology professional and the stadium technology marketplace.

In addition to our historical in-depth profiles of successful stadium technology deployments, our Q3 issue for 2016 has additional news and analysis, including a look at Wi-Fi analytics at the Mall of America, and a story about how the Cleveland Browns found $1 million in ROI using new analytics software from YinzCam. Download your FREE copy today!

Inside the report our editorial coverage also includes:

— Bank of America Stadium profile: An in-depth look at the Carolina Panthers’ decision to bring new Wi-Fi and DAS networks in-house;
— Mercedes-Benz Stadium profile: An early look at the technology being built into the new home of the Atlanta Falcons, with an emphasis on fiber;
— T-Mobile Arena photo essay: A first look at the newest venue on the famed Las Vegas Strip;
— Avaya Stadium profile: How the stadium’s Wi-Fi network became the star of the MLS All-Star game.

We’d like to take a quick moment to thank our sponsors, which for this issue include Mobilitie, Crown Castle, SOLiD, CommScope, JMA Wireless, Corning, Samsung Business, Xirrus, Huber+Suhner, ExteNet Systems, DAS Group Professionals and Boingo Wireless. Their generous sponsorship makes it possible for us to offer this content free of charge to our readers. We’d also like to thank you for your interest and support.

Optical fiber, under-seat Wi-Fi will power wireless connectivity at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium

Aerial photo of Mercedes-Benz Stadium under construction. Credit all photos and artist renderings: Merecedes-Benz Stadium (Click on any photo for a larger image)

Aerial photo of Mercedes-Benz Stadium under construction. Credit all photos and artist renderings: Merecedes-Benz Stadium (Click on any photo for a larger image)

Once just a series of drawings on a blueprint, Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium is getting more real by the day, with walls being added to steel beams, and wires for the internal networks being pulled into place.

Though the June 2017 opening day still is many months away, thanks to thoughtful planning many elements of the stadium’s network have already been tested, thanks to a facility created by stadium network officials to test components under situations as close to “live” as they could possibly get. That lab environment helped the network team make its final decisions on vendors and deployment methods, like going under-seat for deployment of most of the 1,000 Wi-Fi APs that will be in the stadium’s bowl area, part of a planned total of 1,800 APs in the entire venue.

In a recent interview with Jared Miller, chief technology officer at AMB Sports and Entertainment (the entity named for Arthur Blank, the owner of the Atlanta Falcons), Mobile Sports Report got an exclusive update on the construction progress so far for the new $1.5 billion facility, along with new details about the internal network deployment, which will be using more optical fiber than any previous stadium network we know of.

Like the network built at Texas A&M’s Kyle Field, the network inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium will have a single optical core for Wi-Fi, cellular and video, using the Corning ONE platform and deployed by lead network integrator IBM along with Corning.

Wall panels being added to Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta

Wall panels being added to Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta

Miller also confirmed our earlier report that YinzCam software would be used to host the stadium’s IPTV deployment, but vendor choices for Wi-Fi gear and a stadium app have yet to be named.

As construction teams continue to hustle toward completion of the building, here are more details from our conversation with Miller about how the Falcons’ tech team went through the process of determining the products and methods that would allow them to construct a network able to “push the limits” on fan connectivity.

Under-seat for Wi-Fi, with handrail heat sinks

In our early August conversation with Miller, he was happy to report that the planned 4,000 miles of optical fiber were finally starting to be threaded into the new building. “We’re making great progress with a ton of yellow cable,” Miller said.

While the overall architecture at the network core in Mercedes-Benz Stadium will be similar to the one IBM and Corning deployed at Kyle Field, Miller said that in Atlanta his team is pushing fiber even farther to the edge, “with only the last couple feet at most being copper.”

Interior suite construction with fiber cable visible

Interior suite construction with fiber cable visible

Miller said optical fiber, which can carry more data traffic at faster speeds than copper cable, is a necessary infrastructure underpinning for facilities like Mercedes-Benz Stadium that expect to host the biggest events like the Super Bowl and college football championship games. Mercedes-Benz Stadium is already slated to host Super Bowl LIII, the 2018 College Football Playoff Championship, and the 2020 Final Four.

“I really believe [fiber] gives us the foundation to grow and react in the future, to handle technologies we don’t even know about yet,” Miller said.

On the Wi-Fi side of things, Miller said that Mercedes-Benz Stadium will also mimic Kyle Field’s extensive use of under-seat APs in the bowl seating areas. Miller said the stadium will have 1,000 APs serving the seating areas and another 800 for the rest of the venue, for a total Wi-Fi AP count of 1,800.

Since the Mercedes-Benz Stadium network will be using more optical equipment closer to the edge, Miller said that his team used 3D printing experiments to craft custom enclosures for the under-seat APs, both to ensure they didn’t act as debris “traps” and also to add elements like an internal heat sink to diffuse the warmth from the extra electrical components. The heat sink solution involved attaching the AP elements to metal chair railings to dissipate heat, Miller said.

Testing the network before the building is built

After announcing its partnership with IBM in early 2015 as lead technology integrator, the stadium network team spent 6 months reworking the network design, Miller said, a process that confirmed the choice of optical networking at the core. Then to help the network team select gear and components, the Mercedes-Benz Stadium organization built a “full-scale lab facility” that Miller said allowed his team to build multiple live networks to test gear for performance and interaction with other network elements.

Artist rendering of outside of building

Artist rendering of outside of building

“The lab enabled us to see firsthand how gear behaved, not just alone but together [with other products],” said Miller, who added that at one time the network team had three simultaneous running stadium networks inside the lab.

“We were able to bring in different endpoint devices, like POS systems, and know how it’s going to behave [in a network],” Miller said. Plus, the network gave eventual business users of the planned gear time to get hands-on experience and training well before the stadium opens its doors.

On the DAS side of the network buildout, Miller said the stadium has an on-site, raised-floor room for DAS gear with “ample room” for future growth.

“One of those things we learned was that DAS [needs] always double,” Miller said.

YinzCam software for IPTV

Though the stadium hasn’t yet announced a provider for a game-day stadium application, Miller did confirm that Mercedes-Benz Stadium will use YinzCam software to control its IPTV system, which will cover the 2,500 or so TV screens inside the building.

Artist rendering of Falcons game configuration with roof open and 'halo' video board visible

Artist rendering of Falcons game configuration with roof open and ‘halo’ video board visible

“YinzCam is just the most intuitive and capable content management system,” Miller said.

Video is going to be a big part of the stadium from all angles, beginning with the one-of-a-kind “halo board,” a circular screen that will sit inside the retractable roof lines. For standard TV placements, Miller said Mercedes-Benz Stadium will use mainly 50-inch screens and will work with YinzCam to ensure the screens can be seen.

In the stadium’s suites, TV screens will be controlled by a tablet application; Miller said that Mercedes-Benz Stadium is also “contemplating adding the ability to control TV screens with a mobile app,” like the system YinzCam deployed at Texas A&M.

Friendly food pricing and more to come

Though Miller’s concerns are mostly technological in nature, he said there are still a lot of improvements coming to the stadium “that are not always reliant on brute technology,” like the new lower-priced food menus the Falcons announced earlier this year that seem to harken another era with $2 Cokes and $2 hot dogs. Miller said the stadium team continues to get feedback from a fans’ council, which has tagged the arrival and departure experience as one of the main pain points that needs fixing.

Artist rendering of window wall with view to city

Artist rendering of window wall with view to city

Mercedes-Benz Stadium will try to alleviate ingress and egress issues by doing things like creating “ticketed spaces” perhaps on the big outdoor plazas where many fans can congregate even before entering the stadium doors. By creating such spaces, Miller said fans might be able to enter the stadium more rapidly without the logjams that sometimes occur.

“We’re going to study arrival patterns and see what it looks like,” Miller said. “We have one more season to test those kind of things.”

Another amenity that may emerge is the use of wireless charging stations at a number of locations, to combat a scenario that Miller said often happens at marquee events, mainly fans’ phones draining their batteries as they compete with other devices to connect to a wireless network.

“We are focusing on providing amazing connectivity and pushing the limits,” Miller said. “We are looking at all kinds of options to allow fans to stay connected and not be separated from their device.”

Wi-Fi a winner at Avaya Stadium’s MLS All-Star game

Just before game time at Avaya Stadium for the 2016 MLS All Star game. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Just before game time at Avaya Stadium for the 2016 MLS All Star game. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

On the pitch it was the Arsenal lads emerging victorious over by a 2-1 score over the Major League Soccer All-Stars, but in the stands it was Avaya Stadium’s Wi-Fi network that won the day at the 2016 MLS All-Star game Thursday in San Jose, Calif.

Unlike a year ago at the Avaya Stadium opening, when we found the fan-facing Wi-Fi a bit lacking, the Wi-Fi network performed at top speeds for almost all of our tests during an MSR “walkaround” before and during the MLS All-Star game. Unfortunately, we can’t say the same about the cellular network performance in and around Avaya Stadium, with many signals so weak on both the AT&T and Verizon Wireless networks that in most places we couldn’t conduct a speed test.

Leaving behind the question as to why there hasn’t been a DAS installed yet at Avaya Stadium, it was great to see the Wi-Fi network consistently hit download and upload speeds in the mid- to high-20+ Mbps range in just about every spot of the U-shaped soccer-centric arena. In the main seating areas, in the concourses below the stands as well as around the huge open-air bar there was solid connectivity, fueled by what looked like a lot more APs than we saw during vists to the venue last year.

While some of the AP installs looked like last-minute fixes (we saw several instances where paper binder clips were used in Phil Mickelson fashion to secure wiring to metal beams) there was certainly a noticeable amount of extra equipment, especially on the stanchions that loom out over the seating area. There, it seemed like every beam or at least every other beam had three sets of paired APs, which no doubt helped produce a speed test of 28.93/27.44 we took in the middle of the seating area (of section 120, in the closed end zone). Last year, it was a challenge to get a good reading in the middle of the seats.

The top speed test we got Thursday night was outside a sausage stand at one corner of the open end zone, where the meter hit 44.00/33.49 just before game time. We were also impressed by the consistent coverage at the huge outdoor bar in the open end zone, helped no doubt by APs on the top of the bar roof on each end, and three APs per side above the bar server areas.

Somewhat ironically the only place we couldn’t get a Wi-Fi signal was in our assigned “press box” seat, actually the upper back corner in the southwest part of the stadium. While we are guessing the problem may have been due to press-laptop overload (or some APs missing from what looked like normal install points), we noticed that by walking one section away from the press section we were able to reconnect with the regular stadium Wi-Fi network at a reading of 18.27/20.38.

One of the many 'doubled' AP installs we saw

One of the many ‘doubled’ AP installs we saw

Most of the 18,000+ fans in the sellout crowd seemed to have no issues connecting to the Internet, as we saw fans heads-down on their devices in all parts of the venue. We did talk to one fan at halftime who said the lack of cellular connectivity outside the main gate kept him from being able to call up his digital tickets on his phone.

“But once I got inside I connected to Wi-Fi and everything was fine,” he said.

On the upper deck walkways we did finally get a fairly strong AT&T 4G LTE signal — 8.23/8.93 — which may have been due to a clear line of sight to the “eyeball” antenna we saw deployed in the VIP parking lot. And while we could make calls and send texts on our Verizon phone 4G LTE connection, trying to load a web page took so long we gave up. Moral of the story is for Avaya Stadium fans: Make sure you hit the GOQUAKES SSID as soon as you’re near the stadium!

Enjoy the rest of our photos from our quick trip to San Jose, and know that while beers may cost $12.50 and shots of Jameson’s may set you back $12 each, at this year’s All-Star game all the Arsenal cheers and songs you ever wanted to hear were free of charge.

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APs like this ringed the lower concourse wall areas

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When the players walk through the concourse to take the pitch, it’s snapshot city

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At the huge end zone bar, it was SRO all day long

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AP visible in middle of roof section of bar

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Pictures and selfies were the order of the day

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The famed sausage stand AP with the 44 down reading. The bratwurst was good, too

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The Avaya Stadium social media wall

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Staying connected in the stands

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Nice view from the upper deck

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I think if I stuck around this group for one more beer I could have learned at least three Arsenal songs

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AT&T eyeball antenna sighting in the VIP parking lot

Sporting Innovations’ lawsuit against former co-CEO is dismissed

Asim Pasha

Asim Pasha

The somewhat bizarre lawsuit brought last year by Kansas City-based Sporting Innovations against its former co-CEO Asim Pasha for allegedly conspiring to set up a competing firm using Sporting Innovations assets and intellectual property has been dismissed, with a stipulation that the firm cannot re-file similar charges at a later date.

According to a document dated Feb. 29 provided to us by Pasha’s lawyers from Lathrop & Gage LLP, Kansas City, Sporting Innovations’ claims against Asim and his son Zain Pasha (who also worked for Sporting Innovations) were dismissed with prejudice, meaning they cannot be filed again in the future. As part of the negotiation, Pasha also agreed to dismiss his counterclaims against Sporting Innovations, basically meaning that the legal entanglement between the two parties is over.

Robb Heineman

Robb Heineman

Neither Pasha nor Sporting Innovations (now called FanThreeSixty) or FanThreeSixty CEO Robb Heineman would comment on the lawsuit dismissal, but with this result you have to wonder why exactly the case was brought in its initial fashion with its initial claims, including Sporting Innovations’ claim of $75,000 in damages. Though Pasha seems to have perhaps lost any claim to his 20 percent ownership stake in the company — according to Pasha’s lawyers he no longer owns any part of Sporting Innovations — Pasha also announced that he is taking over as the chief technology officer for the new stadium being designed for the AS Roma club, the Stadio Della Roma, which is scheduled to open in 2017 or 2018. We are trying to schedule some time to speak with Pasha about the new stadium, which seems like a very interesting, advanced project, so stay tuned.

On the Sporting Innovations/FanThreeSixty side, the firm is still apparently continuing with part of its original lawsuit, against other defendants. According to the legal document:

The Stipulation of Dismissal, with prejudice, does not affect Plaintiff Sporting Innovations KC LLC’s claims against Vernalis Group, Inc., Nader Hanafy, Inventory Intel, LLC, and Ubi Technologies, LLC, which parties remain as Defendants.

We have emails in to FanThreeSixty for comment, and we also asked Heineman to comment on the case in an “ask me anything” session he recently held on Twitter, but have not gotten a reply to either query. As we noted previously, Sporting Innovations/FanThreeSixty hasn’t announced any new clients recently for their stadium app program, and several high-profile customers, including the Pac-12 and the Tampa Bay Lightning, are no longer using Sporting Innovations software.

Sporting Innovations changes name to FanThreeSixty, no news on lawsuit

Screen Shot 2016-01-21 at 9.14.29 PMKansas City-based sports app developer Sporting Innovations has changed its name to FanThreeSixty, a brand change for what the company calls the desire to create “a more direct connection to its award-winning FanThreeSixty platform.”

However, it’s also possible that the name change is part of a strategy to distance the company from an ongoing legal battle between current FanThreeSixty CEO and former Sporting Innovations CEO Robb Heineman and his former co-CEO Asim Pasha, which started when Sporting Innovations and Heineman filed a lawsuit against Pasha for allegedly conspiring to set up a competing firm using Sporting Innovations assets and intellectual property. That move was followed by Pasha filing counterclaims denying the company’s charges against him while also alleging that he was denied promised ownership stakes in the company for providing the technology behind its stadium-application business.

According to legal representatives for Pasha, the “name change has nothing to do with the lawsuit,” which, according to Pasha’s legal team and news reports, the is still ongoing and scheduled to be heard later this year. FanThreeSixty did not respond to requests for information or an interview about the press release.

So whatever the reason behind its name change, the company formerly known as Sporting Innovations is known primarily for being one of the first movers in the still-nascent field of integrated sports stadium apps, where functionality is designed to not only enhance the fan game-day experience but to also help the team or venue better capture marketing information from digital device use. The company was (and still is) joined at the hip with the Sporting Kansas City Major League Soccer franchise, which was one of the first teams to install Wi-Fi in its stadium and to embrace mobile-device usage by fans.

However, Sporting Innovations’ business of late has not provided much in the way of public customer wins, and several previous customers for the company’s Uphoria mobile device app platform have since dropped the product, including the Pac-12 and the Tampa Bay Lightning. While the Sporting Innovations site had until recently still included links to its Pac-12 and other previous customer wins, the new FanThreeSixty site has scrubbed all the old customer news and links from its site.