August 23, 2017

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.

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.

fanwall1

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

Wi-Fi Analytics: Taking the first steps

Wi-Fi antennas at Joe Louis Arena. Credit: Detroit Red Wings (click on any photo for a larger image)

Wi-Fi antennas at Joe Louis Arena. Credit: Detroit Red Wings (click on any photo for a larger image)

Even though the physical construction and deployment of a fan-facing Wi-Fi network seems like the biggest challenge facing a stadium’s information technology team, in reality everyone involved knows it’s just step one.

While turning on a live network is certainly a great accomplishment, once the data starts flowing the inevitable questions follow: Now that we have Wi-Fi, what do we do with it? And how do we find out who’s using it, why they are using it, and how can we use that information it to find out better ways to improve the fan experience while also improving our business?

Those “step two” questions can only be answered by analytics, the gathering of information about Wi-Fi network performance and user activity. And while almost every live network operator almost instantly uses performance numbers to help tune the system, plans to harvest and digest the more personalized information like end-user identification, application use and fan engagement are just getting started, even at the most technically advanced stadiums with Wi-Fi networks in place.

What follows here are some conversations with stadium tech professionals who are already running fan-facing Wi-Fi networks, exploring how they use Wi-Fi metrics and analytics to both enhance the game-day experience for fans while also building a base of information that can be used by both technical staffs and marketing organizations inside the team, school and venue organizations.

Even this small sample seems to suggest that while Wi-Fi networks may be somewhat pervasive in the larger stadiums across the country, the harvesting and processing of data generated by digital fan engagement is just getting started, with plenty of unanswered questions and experiments that have yet to bear significant fruit. Yet everyone we spoke with also had an unshakable confidence that getting metrics and analytics right was the key to wireless success over the long haul, and all are fully engaged in pursuing that goal. It may take longer than physical deployment, but the “step two” of learning from the networks is well underway.

Detroit Red Wings: Pushing past the initial learning curve

Editor’s note: This profile is from our most recent STADIUM TECH REPORT, the Q2 issue which contains a feature story on Wi-Fi analytics, and a sneak peek of the Minnesota Vikings’ new US Bank Stadium. DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY today!

Now that the Wi-Fi network at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit is coming up on its second birthday, Tod Caflisch said network administrators can relax a bit on game nights. Early on, however, he remembers “babysitting” the network during games, watching live performance stats to make sure everything was working correctly.

Watching the live network performance statistics, Caflisch said, “I could tell if there were issues. If throughput looked a little flat, we might have to reboot a switch. It was important, because there was so much at stake.”

As former director of information technology for the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings (he recently left Detroit and is now with the Minnesota Vikings), Caflisch helped drive the deployment of an Extreme Networks Wi-Fi network at the “Joe.” Though Joe Louis Arena is only going to host games a little while longer — a new downtown arena is just around the corner — Caflisch said the team in Detroit is already heading down the learning curve of interpreting analytics, with big goals on the horizon.

Right now, some of the most interesting network statistics have to do with fan Wi-Fi usage, including total tonnage, which Caflisch said hit 14 terabytes of data for the Red Wings’ home games this past season. That number is one and a half times bigger per game than the first year the network was in place, he said.

Big spikes for a score

One of the more interesting results came when Caflisch mapped network data to game action, an exercise that showed that hockey games may have bigger data spikes and troughs than other sports.

“We saw that traffic spikes corresponded with scores, and we also had huge spikes during intermissions,” Caflisch said. “And there were huge craters during the periods of regular action.”

While Caflisch said “it was kind of cool” to watch the network action mapped to the game action, in the future he sees the ability for the Red Wings use such actionable moments to better engage fans.

“There’s got to be some kind of marketing potential” to connect with fans during a network-activity spike, Caflisch said. What that is, is still unknown. But using networks to more closely engage fans is a big part of the Red Wings’ road map, especially as Detroit builds out a “venue environment” around the new arena.

According to Caflisch, the team in Detroit is planning to build out a network surrounding the arena, in parking lots and public spaces, including lots of beacons for proximity engagement. Though DAS and Wi-Fi numbers can show where foot traffic goes in and around stadiums, the next level of analytics Caflisch sees as important is on fan spending behavior, on items like parking, concessions and in restaurants and bars near the arena. Future projects in Detroit, he said, might include beacon-generated discounts, like a free coffee at a nearby Tim Horton’s or a free beer at a nearby bar.

“The kinds of things you want to find out are what kind of money are fans spending, and how often do they buy,” Caflisch said. “Do they stick around after the game? Do they rush in at the start? That’s the kind of stuff you’re looking for.”

Of course to get some of that data Caflisch knows the team needs to convince fans to engage digitally, by downloading a team app and providing some information for identification. So far some efforts in that direction have been helpful in identifying fans not in the team’s ticketing database, especially fans coming across the border from Canada.

In Detroit, Caflisch said, the Wings are “now marketing to those people, trying to get them to more games for the same or less money.”

Baylor University: Enlisting fans to help pinpoint problems

When Baylor University built its new football mecca, McLane Stadium, the stadium technology department was often as nervous as a football team before a big game. Would the new fan-facing Wi-Fi work as planned? Would they be able to solve problems before they became big problems?

Baylor's McLane Stadium. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Baylor’s McLane Stadium. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

“At the beginning, the questions we asked were along the lines of, ‘can we get through the day,’ ” said Pattie Orr, vice president for information technology and Dean of University Libraries and the public face of the McLane Stadium network. Now that the network team is a couple years into running stadium Wi-Fi, Orr can laugh a bit about the initial fears. But from the beginning, she said, analytics “were a big factor” in making sure the network was running right.

An Extreme Networks deployment, Baylor uses Extreme’s Purview analytics system, which Orr lauds for being “easy to use” and a “great console for real-time information during a game.”

Solving for 2.4 GHz and using fan input

Mostly that means watching the dashboards to see if any APs are causing any errors, something the network stats package can usually show clearly. One of the things the network crew learned quickly during the first season with Wi-Fi was that Baylor fans were using a lot more 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi devices than anyone had thought, meaning that there were more older phones in use that didn’t have the newer 5 GHz Wi-Fi chips.

“The first season we were about 50-50 between 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, and that surprised us,” said Bob Hartland, director of IT servers and networking services at Baylor. “We had to prioritize for more 2.4 GHz.” This past season, Hartland said, the fan devices skewed closer to 60 percent using 5 GHz bands.

A Baylor "Wi-Fi Coach" helps a fan negotiate the network. Credit: Baylor University

A Baylor “Wi-Fi Coach” helps a fan negotiate the network. Credit: Baylor University

Baylor also added Wi-Fi to its basketball arena this past season, presenting a whole new set of problems, like devices trying to connect to APs across the smaller stadium. Though network analytics were a start, Baylor’s team found out that fan input could also help isolate where problems might be from a physical standpoint. Having a team of “network coaches” on hand also helped pinpoint the problems in a way that might be impossible just working from the network side of things.

This past year, Orr said Baylor added a feature to its stadium app to let fans “send a message to the Wi-Fi coach” with their row number and seat number if they were having a network problem. The coaches (part of most Extreme Wi-Fi deployments) also followed social media like Twitter to see if fans were reporting network problems.

“It’s fantastic to have the live [performance] data from your fans,” Orr said. With fan and network data and area knowledge in hand, the coaches and the network team could more quickly determine if it was a network or device problem, and respond more quickly to the issue. So more data = better solutions, faster.

“If you don’t have good access to analytics you can’t deal with fan [problems] in real time,” Orr said.

VenueNext and the Niners: Finding out who’s in the building

As one of the newer and more technologically advanced venues, Levi’s Stadium often gets noticed for its wireless networks, which set single-day records of 26 terabytes of data for combined DAS and Wi-Fi usage at Super Bowl 50.

A VenueNext beacon enclosure at Levi's Stadium. Credit: VenueNext

A VenueNext beacon enclosure at Levi’s Stadium. Credit: VenueNext

Though wireless performance is important to teams and fans, the information being gathered by the Levi’s Stadium app — built by VenueNext, the company created by the Niners specifically to construct stadium apps — may end up being among the most valuable digital assets, since it helps teams discover exactly who is coming in the building and how they are spending time, attention and dollars.

“We generate data for analytics,” said VenueNext CEO John Paul, talking about the role VenueNext plays as a stadium app partner. One of the more stunning facts revealed after the Niners’ first year at Levi’s Stadium was that via the stadium app, the team was able to increase its marketing database of fan names from 17,000 to 315,000, with even more impressive success in the details.

“We were able to find out things like how many games fans attended, and who they got the tickets from,” said Paul. Such data, he said, helps teams solve the classic problem of “having no idea who’s in the building on any given day.”

Knowing how many hot dogs can be delivered

While VenueNext’s value proposition may be centered on its ability to help teams gather such valuable marketing data, VenueNext itself relies on internal analytics to ensure the services its apps support — like express food ordering and in-seat food delivery — keep working smoothly during games.

After the first season at Levi’s Stadium, Paul said VenueNext learned that it needed to expose some of its data in real-time to fans — “to improve service during the event,” Paul said. One example is that now, if there are too many orders in a certain section, the app can send a message to fans that wait times might be longer than normal. Conversely, if a certain area of the stadium has idle kitchen capacity and runners, a team might send an in-app notification asking if fans want to order something, to create demand.

Over time, Paul said the VenueNext analytics might help teams find out where walk-up concession stands get overloaded by foot traffic, and maybe reconfigure stadium kitchen placements to assist with food delivery options. In the end, he said, it should be seamless to the fans, so that in-seat delivery becomes a regular part of a game-day experience.

“The fans should have no idea where the food comes from,” Paul said.