June 25, 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.

NHL’s Bettman: Better tech coming to all NHL stadiums

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, at Levi's Stadium press conference. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image).

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, at Levi’s Stadium press conference. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image).

He wasn’t really there to talk about stadium Wi-Fi, but NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was kind enough to spend a couple minutes geeking out about wireless connectivity with Mobile Sports Report following a press conference at Levi’s Stadium to announce a new NHL online stats operation powered by software giant SAP.

If you are a hockey fan (and there are lots of them in town this weekend for the Coors Light Stadium Series game Saturday at Levi’s) you are going to like the new NHL stats platform, which has an incredible amount of information available today basically at fans’ fingertips, since it works well online and on mobile devices as well. Full player breakdowns, advanced stats you didn’t know you needed and the (coming soon) ability to compare current players to players from the past should provide a lot more depth to the general knowledge of the sport.

But for the MSR audience we asked Bettman specifically if the NHL was doing anything on a league-wide basis to ensure that fans at NHL venues had enough wireless connectivity to, say, view the new SAP stats package during games.

New SAP-powered NHL stats on a mobile device

New SAP-powered NHL stats on a mobile device

“All our arenas are being upgraded [from a technology standpoint],” said Bettman in a quick Q&A with MSR following the formal press conference. “From bigger video boards to Wi-Fi we know our fans want what they want, when they want it.”

Since not every NHL arena has fan-facing Wi-Fi — watch for a list in an upcoming MSR report — we asked Bettman if the league was prepared to offer any financial help to get all venues wired. The problem, he said, is that in many stadiums the NHL team is a tenant and not an owner, so teams aren’t able to step in and deploy wireless networks. Plus, many of the NHL stadiums are older buildings, which are generally harder to retrofit with wireless networks.

“It’s easier to do when you’re in a greenfield situation, building a new stadium like this,” Bettman said, gesturing to the new walls surrounding him in the tony Levi’s Stadium United Club.

With the league-sanctioned stats platform, the NHL seems to be taking a step in the path blazed by Major League Baseball, where a unified digital strategy brings live action and other league information to fans in a single package. We asked Bettman if the NHL had any plans to add features like video replays to its stats offering, maybe moving more in the direction of MLB or even the NFL’s NFL Now offering.

New NHL stats page showing player info

New NHL stats page showing player info

“We’re looking at it,” Bettman said of offering video. On the new stats package idea overall, Bettman said “if there was one word to describe it, it’s ‘more.’ More data, more speed. We’ve gone from nothing to a rocket ship. Wait until you see what’s next.”

As far as the stats operation goes, what we saw Friday was pretty good, and holds the promise of getting even better. For starters the operation (which, according to SAP runs on its SAP HANA enterprise cloud service) will incorporate new, cleaner design than previous NHL stats offerings, as well as visualization tools to better show stats in graphical format. Coming in the near future is a feature that is really cool: The ability to compare current players’ stats to those of players from the past, thanks to an ambitious effort to find things like old scoresheets from as far back as the 1920s, and having that information scanned into the new digital system. SAP did a similar thing with Duke basketball, helping build a historic-comparison site for Duke fans.

Bettman and the NHL folks will be around Saturday to see if the ice stays frozen for the Stadium Series game between the San Jose Sharks and the Los Angeles Kings. Ice rink in the sun picture below.

Levi's Stadium with ice rink in place

Levi’s Stadium with ice rink in place

Ever wonder how adept your NFL team is with social media?

The news from earlier this week that the aptly named AT&T Stadium that the Dallas Cowboys play in had a record amount of Wi-Fi traffic for the teams’ season opening game , 3x over last year, is no surprise to the people at social marketing firm W20 which has rated all of the NFL stadiums for their social media prowess and the Cowboys come in second.

Now this is not just a barometer of Wi-Fi traffic by any means and judges teams on a variety of metrics, but when it is all said and done you need the hardware and networking infrastructure to have a solid approach to social media and AT&T Stadium had 25,000 Wi-Fi connections using up 1.3 million Mbytes of data.

W20 has attempted to rate all 32 NFL teams on their ability to use social media to connect with their respective fans. It used use a proprietary algorithm that indexes social engagement scores from a wide variety of social media sites including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

Even with a spanking brand new stadium it had to be upgraded during the off season to meet expected demand. The interesting thing is that the 49ers, who play in an old, dilapidated stadium, are number one. However the 49ers, being adjacent to Silicon Valley are quite aware of the importance of social media and are in a place where all of the expertise needed to support it is near at hand.

The team’s new stadium, slated to open next season, is expected to be a state of the art wonder including its wireless infrastructure that it claims will be state of the art.

The interesting thing about the poll is how quickly teams drop in the ratings. The 49ers rate a perfect 100, yet the #5 team, the Washington Redskins, has only a 66.87 rating while the last place Cincinnati Bengals have a 26.91. I think my high school would rank higher!

The NFL is only now catching on that Wi-Fi and other associated social media apps are now a basic component in fans lives. They take pictures from tailgaters to post on Facebook and Instagram, check fantasy results, trash talk friends and a host of other activities.

However they do not just create social media data, they consume it. The teams have a captive audience that is obviously receptive to looking, reading and participating. An Instagram effort to get fans pictures posted, Facebook contests at stadiums, best Twitter commentary, all help to engage fans and are functions teams could be doing, but for the most part are not.

There are a number of other rating systems that have judged the same thing for the NFL, but as we reported earlier the league badly lags in developing and delivering the hardware, networking and apps needed to be at the forefront of the convergence of sports and media.

While the NFL is king of the hill in American sports , the league has been worried about the slow erosion in attendance. New stadiums often push old time fans to poorer seats, expensive parking, seats and food and beverages add on. A big screen at a friends house and NFL Red Zone each weekend might cost a fan just a six pack as the rice of admission. By providing access to social media and the greater world outside the NFL can in some ways make the stadium experience more enjoyable for fans and so help keep them in the parks.

Something to think about next time you are sitting at a game with 5 bars and no connection.

San Jose Sharks’ Partnership with SAP brings Hi-Tech to Arena

sharks

The San Jose Sharks parent company Sharks Sports & Entertainment Inc., the City of San Jose and SAP International have joined together to use existing and emerging technologies to both enhance the experience for fans but to also for internal use and working on player performance.

The five year relationship also calls for a new official name for the Shark Tank, which will now go by the moniker of the SAP Center at San Jose. The parties involved said that the deal will make the Center a showplace for Silicon Valley high technology as well as help the team.

For those unfamiliar with SAP, at least in relationship to sports teams, this is part of a concentrated effort by SAP to mine the growing needs of both teams and leagues for both high tech internal technology to handle everything from analysis of player performance, scouting to ticket sales as well as providing fans with the growing list of features and services that they are growing accustomed to from Wi-Fi to apps that improve the experience at the stadium.

SAP has been working with the team for some time and has surveyed fans about their experience and from that data the company has initial plans to engage in some specific areas to improve their experience at the center. They include many things that a fan might expect such as providing real time alerts, up to date team and player information, hooks into social media and game video.

Good news to fans that hate the long lines that can slow entrance to a stadium or to concessions will be the adoption of technology that enables fans to use mobile devices to gain access to the arena but also buy food and merchandise from a phone or tablet. Fan loyalty programs are also under consideration.

That is all for the fans. The team will also be leveraging SAP’s traditional analytic and cloud capabilities. The team plans to use SAP’s technology in its daily operating, leveraging its expertise in areas that include cloud computing, big data analysis and mobile technology as tools for daily operating as a business as well as to handle the unique challenges that face sports and entertainment facilities and teams.

Currently the Sharks are also looking at the SAP Scouting Solution as a tool to assist its scouting department evaluate players and delve down to what the performance statistics mean in the real world.

SAP is throwing an increasingly large net in the sports world and has relationships with a variety of leagues including the NBA, and NFL as well as prominent teams including the Sharks, NY Yankees and San Francisco 49ers.