August 23, 2017

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.

Sacramento Kings’ Golden 1 Center will use really fast fiber technology from CommScope

Fiber cabling inside the Golden 1 Center data center. Credit: CommScope / Golden 1 Center

Fiber cabling inside the Golden 1 Center data center. Credit: CommScope / Golden 1 Center

Since the Sacramento Kings are already talking about bandwidth-hogging applications like virtual reality replays for fans who visit the new Golden 1 Center, it’s perhaps no surprise that the venue will also have some of the fastest, highest capacity fiber network technology at its core.

On Tuesday, the Kings and network infrastructure provider CommScope announced that Golden 1 Center will be the first place to employ something called wideband multimode fiber, or WBMMF in the world of tech acronyms. Without getting too deep into fiber optics details it might be enough for most to know that WBMMF, a new developing standard in the cabling infrastructure world, lets you send more stuff over fewer fibers, an advancement developed mainly for the data center world but one that will also benefit places that expect to move a lot of data around, like Golden 1 Center.

Back in the old days, it was news when stadium networks upgraded to 1-gigabit per second pipes coming in to provide bandwidth. These days, many stadiums are talking multiple 10-gig pipes and even looking at 100-gig pipes (like Golden 1 Center will use from Comcast), meaning that the internal networks also need to get faster and wider to handle the never-ending increases in data use.

Golden 1 Center nears completion. Credit: Golden 1 Center

Golden 1 Center nears completion. Credit: Golden 1 Center

Before its scheduled October opening we are sure we’ll hear more about the fan-facing Wi-Fi and DAS network deployments, but it’s worthwhile to acknowledge that the underlying core network at Golden 1 Center should be able to handle data expansion for the foreseeable future thanks to the choice of the latest in fiber technology.

John Schmidt, vice president for CommScope’s Data Center solutions team, said the WBMMF products are primarily targeted at the data center market; but he also noted that with its own 6,000-square-foot data center, Golden 1 Center qualifies as the kind of place that will need the kind of future-proofing WBMMF can provide.

When the plans for Golden 1 Center were first talked about publicly, Schmidt said CommScope reached out to the Kings with a pitch about using the latest fiber technology in the core.

“It was clear they wanted something state of the art, with a great fan [network] experience,” Schmidt said. “We told them we could help with the physical layer, to support the bandwidth they would need.”

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AT&T: Dems top Republicans for convention wireless data use

There’s an early winner in this year’s election race, at least when it comes to wireless data use: According to AT&T, the Democrats used a total of 5.4 terabytes of data on AT&T networks inside the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia during their convention, compared to 2.8 TB used by the Republicans during their convention at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.

Do the traffic totals mean anything for governing our country? Most likely not. But the stats are interesting to look at for stadium technology professionals, especially since an event like a political convention is almost guaranteed to dwarf sporting events given the number of people inside the arenas and the length of action each day.

Remember that these statistics only represent AT&T cellular traffic in each arena, meaning that the actual total of wireless data was probably much higher; that’s because both of the stadiums have in-arena Wi-Fi and internal connectivity for other carriers; but we never got confirmation from either arena whether Wi-Fi was turned on or not, and we did not receive any numbers from other carriers. But — even just the AT&T numbers were impressive to study. Consider:

Average traffic: According to AT&T, traffic during Democratic convention days in late July was 387 percent higher than the average game totals during the Philadelphia Flyers’ playoff series with the Washington Capitals in April. The GOP beat sports too, accoring to AT&T, with an average per-day traffic total 250 percent higher than the total reached during Game 6 of the NBA Finals this year.

Total data use: On July 28, the Wells Fargo Center saw 1.5 TB of traffic on the AT&T cellular network — a pretty big total for a building that isn’t a huge football stadium.

Surrounding area data use: Chew on this stat for a bit from AT&T’s press release: “Across the major venues supporting the DNC – including the arena, Philadelphia Convention Center, along the Ben Franklin Parkway and surrounding areas – we saw approximately 64 TB cross our mobile network during the DNC. During the Pope’s visit last September, we saw 12.6 TB cross our network in Philly.”

Again, the Dems crushed the Republicans on this front — according to AT&T, GOP visitors used 9.4 TB of wireless data at surrounding venues during the event, still an interesting mark but far off the Dems’ totals. What this has us wondering here at stadium-stats central is if we should now separate and include related-area numbers… weigh in with your thoughts, please!

Pepsi Center partners with ParkHub for digital parking experience

Denver's Pepsi Center in hockey configuration. Credit: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Denver’s Pepsi Center in hockey configuration. Credit: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Fans coming to Denver’s Pepsi Center this fall will be able to prepurchase parking tickets and get mobile-device directions to their reserved spot, as part of a wide-ranging digital parking system from stadium parking technology startup ParkHub.

In a release today, Kroenke Sports and Entertainment (KSE) — owners of the Pepsi Center as well as the main tenants, the NBA’s Denver Nuggets and the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche — said it will use “all of ParkHub’s parking solutions” to help power a list of features that include pre-purchasing capabilities, the ability to take cash and credit card payment options for parking at the gate, real-time views of parking spot availability, and turn by turn directions to the lot locations. Fans will be able to access the parking options via a responsive website optimized for mobile scheduled to debut this fall, according to ParkHub.

(Now that MSR is local to the area we’re looking forward to seeing the app in action, if only because the curved streets in the vicinity of the Pepsi Center have always made parking downtown an adventure for us!)

According to the Dallas-based ParkHub, which is adding rapidly to its list of current customers, the KSE deal is the first time ParkHub will “white label” its entire suite of products, which will be offered from the Pepsi Center and not directly from ParkHub.

Dashboard view of ParkHub's admin program. Credit: ParkHub

Dashboard view of ParkHub’s admin program. Credit: ParkHub

Included on the back end of ParkHub’s system is the ability to administer, approve and analyze all parking activities from a dashboard view. According to ParkHub, parking information is available in real time, allowing venues to fine-tune things like lot availability and direction of traffic as cars arrive at the stadium.

“When I think about the success of an event, the primary goal is to expedite a better experience of getting people parked and in their seats in the least frustrating way as possible,” said Scott Beekhuizen, senior director of events operations for KSE, in a prepared statement. “Not only did we add a reliable pre-purchasing platform, but now all of our fans can use credit cards to pay at the gate. I know they are going to love that.”

Fans at Pepsi Center events this fall will also be able to connect to the Internet via high-speed Wi-Fi from Avaya that was recently installed at the venue.

Denver’s Pepsi Center gets Avaya Wi-Fi network

Denver's Pepsi Center. Credit: Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

Denver’s Pepsi Center. Credit: Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

Though it’s been operating inside the building since earlier this year, the Avaya Wi-Fi network in Denver’s Pepsi Center is official today, with a public announcement from stadium owners Kroenke Sports & Entertainment about the deployment.

Home to the NBA’s Nuggets and the NHL’s Avalanche, the arena — which seats 19,155 for hoops and 18,007 for hockey — hosts more than 200 events per year, according to the stadium home page. Now, sports fans and attendees at concerts and other events will be able to connect to the Internet via the 325 Avaya Wi-Fi APs installed over the past year, a number confirmed by Rick Schoenhals, vice president for information and technology for Kroenke Sports & Entertainment (KSE).

According to Schoenhals, the Wi-Fi network inside the Pepsi Center has been fully operational since late this spring, the end of a ramp-up period designed to ensure full operation by the start of the upcoming basketball and hockey seasons. Though no statistics for fan use from the past season are available, the network is designed to also provide connectivity for in-house operations including video feeds, security operations, concessions and also for sideline team access, according to a press release.

Avaya said the network deployment at the Pepsi Center will also include a “fan engagement wall,” a live social-media centerpiece that displays fan social media posts in real time for arena attendees to view on digital displays. Avaya has a similar fan engagement wall at its eponymous Avaya Stadium in San Jose, Calif., home to major league soccer’s Earthquakes and home of this year’s MLS All-Star game later this month. In addition to the Pepsi Center and Avaya Stadium, Avaya also is the gear used in the Wi-Fi network at the Montreal Canadiens’ Bell Centre.

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Fan wall at Avaya Stadium in San Jose. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Golden State Warriors’ Wi-Fi network lease part of planned SignalShare assets auction

Screen shot of nGage Fan Feed. Credit: SignalShare

Screen shot of nGage Fan Feed. Credit: SignalShare

The contract covering the operation of the Wi-Fi network at the Golden State Warriors’ Oracle Arena is up for auction, as part of the fallout from a lawsuit involving alleged fraudulent business practices by Wi-Fi deployment concern SignalShare.

UPDATE, 7/7/16: According to the auctioneers, the auction is currently postponed, due to their claims of a bankruptcy filing by SignalShare. More details as we learn more.

SignalShare, which has installed and operated Wi-Fi networks in a number of large sports venues, including arenas used by the Detroit Red Wings, the Houston Rockets, the Sacramento Kings, the University of Maryland and others, is being sued for $7.8 million by NFS Leasing, an equipment leasing company, over a dispute involving allegedly fraudulent leases by SignalShare and SignalShare’s default on an agreement to pay back money obtained through those leases. As part of the ongoing legal proceedings, NFS has apparently scheduled an auction of SignalShare assets it claims, including leases, software code and hardware, for July 14 through Paul E. Saperstein Co., Inc.

So far, Mobile Sports Report has not been able to get any comments on the lawsuit or the auction from SignalShare, NFS, or any of the venues where SignalShare had installed networks. According to the auction site, NFS will make available for auction the contracts between SignalShare and the following list of teams and venues: The Golden State Warriors and Oracle Arena; the Carolina Hurricanes and PNC Arena; the Houston Rockets and Toyota Center Arena; the Detroit Red Wings and Joe Louis Arena; the Jacksonville Jaguars and Everbank Field; the Milwaukee Bucks and Brady Harris Arena; and the Las Vegas Sands Convention Center.

According to sources familiar with some of the SignalShare deals, some of the networks were run under a lease agreement, where the team or venue owners paid SignalShare a monthly fee for operation of the Wi-Fi network, with SignalShare retaining ownership of the actual equipment. According to legal documents filed in the case, NFS provided the financing for many of the existing SignalShare deals, as well as millions more in financing for deals NFS claims never actually existed. So far, there has been no public accounting for where the millions provided by NFS for the allegedly fraudulent leases ended up.

Live-Fi code also up for auction

While the leases are potentially interesting to many possible parties — firms who could take over the network operations, or who might be interested in purchasing the leased equipment — the asset with perhaps the most tangible worth is SignalShare’s “Live-Fi” software, a kind of customer portal program meant to help teams and venues engage more closely with fans and to also facilitate advertising sales. According to legal documents filed in the case, SignalShare owners apparently attempted to transfer the ownership of the Live-Fi code to a subsidiary firm to apparently keep it out of any claim proceedings, a move that was recently blocked when the courts granted an injunction requested by NFS.

Aside from whatever happens in the ongoing legal case and at the auction, for the venues involved the bigger question is more likely what happens to their existing or planned networks. In several of the mentioned deals, including the Jaguars, the University of Maryland and the Detroit Red Wings, SignalShare publicly partnered with Wi-Fi gear provider Extreme Networks; Extreme representatives declined to comment on any specifics of the SignalShare lawsuit.

One common trait shared by several of the SignalShare deals was that they involved Wi-Fi networks at arenas that were scheduled to be replaced or abandoned by the teams in the near future — the Warriors, Kings and Red Wings are all already building or planning to build new stadiums. The SignalShare “leasing” model may have seemed more attractive than spending the potentially millions in upfront costs for a network that may only have been used for a few years. The only thing for sure now is that the future of Wi-Fi at the venues mentioned seems to be on hold until the legal questions around SignalShare’s operations are answered.