June 25, 2017

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.

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.

Cleveland Browns: New YinzCam analytics platform produced $1 million+ in ROI

FirstEnergy Stadium, home of the Cleveland Browns. Credit: Cleveland Browns.

FirstEnergy Stadium, home of the Cleveland Browns. Credit: Cleveland Browns.

In sports it’s one thing to have a great playbook, and quite another thing to have a team that can execute the plays.

You can make a similar comparison to the state of sports business analytics — teams and venues are awash these days in ways to collect digital data on fans. But not many teams have figured out how to act on that information to effectively improve the fan experience, and improve the business bottom line, making many digital-fan engagement efforts seem unfinished.

That quest — to find a return on investment for a team’s digital operations — may get a big push forward this week with the announcement of the YinzCam Business Intelligence Platform, which is designed to bring together all kinds of digital fan data info in a place where teams can see it and act on it in a consolidated, structured fashion. According to early users the platform allows teams or venues to establish a highly personalized connection to the fan — while powering more efficient business processes at the same time.

At the SEAT Conference this week in Las Vegas, YinzCam will announce its new product and present a case study with the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, who have been testing the YinzCam software ahead of its general release. In an interview last week with Mobile Sports Report, the Browns said the YinzCam software did the one thing other existing products and services couldn’t do — help them analyze and act on the data they gathered from various digital fan interactions.

Screenshot of YinzCam Business Intelligence Platform view of fan profile. Credit: YinzCam/Cleveland Browns

Screenshot of YinzCam Business Intelligence Platform view of fan profile. Credit: YinzCam/Cleveland Browns

In one test, the Browns said the YinzCam Business Intelligence Platform allowed the team to save more than a million dollars in season-ticket renewals by being able to more effectively target fans who might be thinking about not renewing, and to connect with them via the fans’ preferred method of communication, trying to convince them to renew. According to YinzCam CEO Priya Narasimhan, the Business Intelligence Platform will be generally available on Monday.

New direction for YinzCam

The Business Intelligence Platform is a significant business shift for YinzCam, which to date has made its name by producing team and stadium apps that focus mainly on content, either for fans at the game or (increasingly) for fans at home who want to stay connected with their teams. With more than 150 mobile apps developed for teams in all the major U.S. professional sports leagues as well as in the NCAA and in international arenas, YinzCam is by far the leader in the market of stadium- and team-specific applications.

While YinzCam’s Narasimhan said the company’s apps have always used data to help bring a better app experience to fans, the new twist in the business platform is that YinzCam can combine its mobile-app fan interaction knowledge with other team data stores — like ticketing and concession purchase information from other potential team partners, like TicketMaster or Legends — to present a single, unified view of a digital fan profile. The platform will also allow teams to construct single campaigns across multiple communication channels — like email , phone outreach and social media — without the sometimes challenging task of sharing or merging contact lists.

Screenshot of YinzCam's Browns app

Screenshot of YinzCam’s Browns app

“By combining YinzCam’s mobile app capabilities with all of our sources of information, this platform offers our team the ability to organize, understand and evaluate data in a manner that addresses our main goal of continually improving our fans’ experience by customizing it for each individual,” said Cleveland Browns executive vice president and chief financial officer Dave Jenkins, in an email conversation. “In addition to understanding our fans better and providing an opportunity to accommodate their personal preferences, the system integrates information clearly across multiple areas so our team can communicate effectively with fans, allowing our staff to work more efficiently and successfully.”

Acting on data

As more teams install wireless networks in their stadiums and increase their digital interaction with fans — via such activities as digital ticketing, concession purchases, content consumption and various fan loyalty programs — the business desire is to use that digital engagement to better serve the fan while also increasing business efficiency and support new channels of revenue. However, as our recent Wi-Fi analytics feature found, even the leaders in digital programs are still at the starting points of using analytics to power such ideas.

According to members of the Cleveland Browns’ business analytics department, the team has been trying to build a data-based approach to fan engagement for the past several years, but didn’t find what they were looking for in the way of a product or service until hearing about YinzCam’s new platform. According to the Browns, the YinzCam business platform is a breakthrough, since it provides the means to not just harvest all kinds of data, but to also bring those numbers together to be acted upon in a simple, unified fashion.

Dave Giller, manager of business analytics for the Browns, said other firms with analytics products and services only seemed to offer products that “gave us the data and a container to put it in. YinzCam was the only one who could show us insights, and that really made all the difference.”

The Browns use many methods of communication to stay in touch with fans, including group selfies. Credit: Cleveland Browns

The Browns use many methods of communication to stay in touch with fans, including group selfies. Credit: Cleveland Browns

Joe Moeller, also a manager of business analytics for the Browns, echoed Giller’s view. “There are lots of ways to get data, put it in a warehouse, and then build a fan profile,” Moeller said. “With YinzCam, we have a solution for that third step — ‘here’s what I do with the data I have.’ That’s huge for us.”

Testing the math

To find out for themselves if the YinzCam platform could help the team in a measurable way, the Browns set up a thorough pilot program around the question of season ticket-holder renewals — a business question at the heart and soul of many teams’ operations. What the Browns wanted to find out was whether or not a system like YinzCam’s could help them improve an important process — being able to identify season ticket holders who might be leaning toward not renewing, and to connect with them to try to keep them in the fold.

According to Giller and Moeller, there were two significant factors in the pilot — first trying to identify which fans might be in danger of not renewing, and second, how to best reach those fans with targeted communications. As a baseline, the Browns established control groups that put some season ticket holders randomly into groups to be contacted either by email, or phone calls, or via social media; then other groups were built using the YinzCam platform to both find ticket holders who might not be interested in renewing, and to find the best ways to reach those ticket holders.

Giller and Moeller said the method of communicating to fans and ticket holders is a primary concern these days, since many people have a preferred method of digital communication, with no single method applicable across demographic spectrums.

“Some people respond better through a particular platform,” Giller said. “We worry about whether people will get freaked out if they get a DM from us on Twitter.”

Screenshot of the YinzCam Business Intelligence Platform dashboard. Credit: YinzCam/Cleveland Browns

Screenshot of the YinzCam Business Intelligence Platform dashboard. Credit: YinzCam/Cleveland Browns

At the risk of oversimplifying the process (interested parties at SEAT can learn more details at a panel describing the Browns’ experiments on Monday at 11:30 a.m. Vegas time), what the Browns found was that using the YinzCam business platform, they were able to increase their success rate of renewals by 16 percent over a non-YinzCam method — a process that gave the Browns more than $1 million in renewal revenues compared to the non-YinzCam method.

“We report up through the CFO, and it’s his responsibility to make sure this [analytics] is a viable business,” Giller said. A million-plus, everyone agreed, was among the best ways to show a digital-program ROI.

Where does it go next?

While ticketing operations are usually the best place to show business improvements, Narasimhan and the Browns are interested in additional steps the business platform can be used for, including managing tasks like content delivery, merchandise and concessions discounts, and additional ticket purchases and upsells.

“There are more questions to be answered, like which content do we produce, and which medium should it be delivered through,” Moeller said. He added that the YinzCam platform will also allow the Browns or other teams to show engagement data to potential sponsors for team apps and other engagement platforms, so they can compare how the team-specific connections stack up against other media and engagement programs.

YinzCam’s Narasimhan said that the business platform could be customized in many ways depending upon a team or venue’s desires for outcomes. From a market perspective, the YinzCam Business Intelligence Platform seems to be a significant shift in direction for the Pittsburgh-based company, one that might help fend off the growing competition from new players like VenueNext, a company whose team- and venue-app strategy is focused on fan services, like ticketing and concessions, over content, with its own analytics platform to help teams better assess the performance of digital operations.

Whether or not teams pick YinzCam or VenueNext or some other competitor to help turn data into profitable actions, the good news for teams and venues is that the biggest player in stadium and team apps is now bringing its playbook to back of the house operations; like in any sport, increased competition can only lead to a better final outcome for all.

Cavs, Budweiser and YinzCam bring virtual reality experiment to Cleveland fans

Fan testing the virtual-reality headset at Quicken Loans Arena. All photos: Cleveland Cavaliers

Fan testing the virtual-reality headset at Quicken Loans Arena. All photos: Cleveland Cavaliers

Approximately 750 fans were able to use the Cleveland Cavaliers’ stadium app and some cardboard headsets to get a virtual-reality experience while at Quicken Loans Arena for Wednesday’s playoff game between the Cavs and the Atlanta Hawks, according to the team.

Since we weren’t at the Q we couldn’t see the videos but according to the Cavs there was some VR content available Wednesday night via the YinzCam-developed team app, which if you were lucky to get one of the 750 promotional headsets that were given away, you could insert your phone and have a true, turn-the-head feel to the VR content, according to the team. Other fans could simply view the VR content on their phones, even without the headsets, the Cavs said.

Though there was no live VR content available, the canned-video experiment is just another leading-edge innovation for the Cavs at Quicken Loans Arena, one of the most technology-forward sports arenas around. According to the team it plans to repeat the VR experiment at some future playoff games, with another 1,500 Budweiser-branded headsets to give away.

Screenshot of Cavs app showing VR content tab

Screenshot of Cavs app showing VR content tab

Cleverly, the headset “easily transforms into a handy Budweiser beer holder,” according to a press release.

“We’re always looking for new ways to connect with our fans by leveraging emerging technologies that deliver unique experiences. VR was a logical next step and an area we’re excited to explore,” said Mike Conley, Cavs VP of Digital, in a prepared statement. “The technology has endless opportunity and thanks to our partnership with Budweiser and Yinzcam, we’ve been able to get a head start in the emerging VR space with the new video content available on the Cavs App.”

No word yet on how well the headsets worked (as viewing devices or beer holders) or how many fans viewed the VR content, but it is at the very least a sign that VR may be closer to mainstream than you think, and that for savvy teams it can be an easy way to add a very visible sponsorship. Oh and by the way the Cavs also destroyed the Hawks 123-98, going up 2-0 in their series.

vrc3

Here’s what the VR content looked like (kinda) in a 2D version

Podcast Episode 2: Is in-seat food ordering and delivery the next big thing?

Episode 2 of the STADIUM TECH REPORT PODCAST is live, in which hosts Phil Harvey and Paul Kapustka bite into the topic of in-seat food ordering and delivery, wondering if it’s the next big thing in stadium services, or something that needs to get better before it gets bigger. Take a listen and offer your takes in the comments section below!

Here is the link to the podcast on iTunes!

University of Wisconsin takes on Wi-Fi, Badger Game Day app upgrades

Camp Randall Stadium, University of Wisconsin. Photo: Dave Stluka

Camp Randall Stadium, University of Wisconsin. Photo: Dave Stluka

Sports fans at the University of Wisconsin have been enjoying a nice technology two-fer for the last 20 months: In addition to new Wi-Fi and beacon technology at its largest sporting venues in Madison, Wisc., the university also released v3.0.2 of its Badger Game Day app which adds live and archived video, among other features, for fans and their smartphones.

Jim Roberts, director of technical services for the university’s athletic department, described this as a happy coincidence as opposed to a larger strategy to bring sports technology to the Badger faithful. “Knowing that the new Wi-Fi system was coming, the group working on the app upgrade was able to incorporate more features, knowing fans could take advantage of the improved Wi-Fi and not rely solely on cellular data plans,” Roberts said.

Editor’s note: This profile is an excerpt from our latest STADIUM TECHNOLOGY REPORT, which is available for FREE DOWNLOAD from our site. In addition to this stadium tech deployment profiles we also take an in-depth look at the new trend of deploying Wi-Fi and DAS antennas under seats, and provide a wireless recap from Super Bowl 50. GET YOUR COPY today!

The Wisconsin venues are Camp Randall, a bowl-style football stadium with a capacity of 80,321; and nearby Kohl Center, used for hockey, basketball, concerts and other live events with room for 17,230. The LeBahn Arena, built for women’s ice hockey with a capacity of 2,273, is also included. In part because of their proximity, Roberts and his team used the upgrades to replace and enhance the underlying infrastructure for the venues – core switching, Wi-Fi access points, an IPTV system, cabling, electrical power and HVAC improvements — $11 million for the whole package, according to Roberts.

“Due to the expected size of the population connecting to Wi-Fi, we had to upgrade the entire network,” he explained, adding that the previous 10/100 Mbps backbone with Gigabit Ethernet uplinks and its 32,000 MAC address capacity was insufficient for the job.

“We upgraded our core to some pretty big Cisco routers at each venue that could handle 128,000 MAC addresses, with 10-gigabit fiber to all 33 telecom rooms within the Camp Randall complex,” he said; they also added about 1,100 wireless APs. Camp Randall got upgraded during the summer of 2014; the Kohl Center and LeBahn were done a year later.

Kohl Center

Kohl Center

Camp Randall proved to be the largest test, both from an engineering and design perspective. Built in 1917, its open bowl lacks the overhangs from which RF engineers love to hang antennas and other infrastructure.

“The east side of the bowl became our biggest challenge with getting the signal to penetrate deep enough into the sections,” Roberts said, adding that the problem was especially acute for seats closest to the field, where the first few rows are tarped over. Initially, APs were installed below the tarps, but the signal only carried 10 rows back.

“We ended up mounting the APs on the front, 4-6 feet up from ground level,” and above the tarps, he explained. “They don’t affect the sight lines for spectators. But getting the APs to shoulder height from waist height definitely helped us get it back to row 25.”

APs were also mounted just above the entry tunnels, where the hardware and antenna could be attached to railings and concrete. Cisco is the University of Wisconsin’s AP vendor; the deployment uses Cisco model 3700s.

Wi-Fi install over a VOM at Camp Randall (click on photo for a larger image)

Wi-Fi install over a VOM at Camp Randall (click on photo for a larger image)

Roberts and his team also ran into some structural issues with waterproofing and cabling that kept them from putting in more APs in the student section. They had to re-calculate where the APs would go; consequently, coverage can be spotty in the student section, which is exacerbated by the high density of phones in that part of the stadium. AT&T and Verizon both have DAS infrastructure in Camp Randall that helps coverage, but Roberts and his team are looking at long-term solutions for Wi-Fi coverage in that section and throughout Camp Randall.

The University of Wisconsin worked closely with AmpThink on a facility-wide Wi-Fi analysis, according to Bob Lahey, a network engineer in the athletic department. AmpThink did the design and tuning and worked out some issues in advance. “Our facilities staff and [AmpThink] discussed locations for best coverage and worked through the aesthetics before we started the project,” Lahey said. AmpThink was also onsite during the first year to see how the Wi-Fi performed with people in the bowl. “You can only figure out so much without people there,” Lahey laughed.

Getting Online at Camp Randall

The stadium’s fan-facing wireless network, Badger WiFi, is a captive portal that asks users for their name, email address and zip code. There are also two boxes: one, users must check to agree to terms and conditions of service; the second allows the university to send them emails, and by default, the second box is checked. “Our plan is to send them email surveys and allow them to remain on the system and not have to re-authenticate every time they come to one of our buildings,” Lahey said. “But if they uncheck, they have to re-authenticate.”

The university does no bandwidth limiting or throttling back usage once users are logged in. “We’ve got dual 10-gigabit links and 100-gigabit to the world, so we’re not too concerned about overall bandwidth,” Lahey said. “We limit each radio in the AP to a maximum of 200 clients. It doesn’t happen often, but we see it occasionally.” Camp Randall users normally get at least 1 Mbps bandwidth — plenty for checking scores or posting to social media, Lahey added. Kohl Center users average 40-60 Mbps because the venue is less dense.

Screen shot of Wi-Fi portal login

Screen shot of Wi-Fi portal login

At present, 65-70 percent of Badger Wi-Fi clients are on 5 GHz spectrum rather than 2.4 GHz. Roberts finds the 5 GHz band easier to manage, and said users get a better experience. “If we have problems with wireless, it is most times an older couple with their iPhone 4,” Roberts said. “APs can only do so much, but sometimes a phone [using 2.4 GHz spectrum] will want to connect with an AP a half mile across the field rather than one that’s 10 feet away.”

He also said the maximum number of unique clients for Camp Randall is about 26,000, or 37 percent of the crowd. “We assume that’s going to keep growing and we’ll have to augment the system,” he said. “At some point we won’t have enough access points.”

Game Day Gets a Badger Refresh

Concurrently, the Badger Game Day smartphone app was getting new features like live video replay and interaction with Bluetooth-based beacon technology. The app’s first iteration was initially for football, then expanded to all 10 sports that sell tickets; the latest version embraces all 23 sports at the University of Wisconsin, men’s and women’s. “Not many schools have all their sports represented, so while the traffic may not be high on rowing, it’s a great recruitment tool,” said Ben Fraser, director of external engagement for the athletics department. “So it helps there with the coaches sending out links or for parents and other supporters.”

It also helps with fans. “Collegiate and professional sports venues are looking for how to keep fans entertained and also allow them to participate in the game via social media and other methods,” noted Tam Flarup, director of the athletic department’s website services. When there’s break in the action, Badger fans are busy posting to Facebook, Instagram and of course, Wisconsin’s infamous Jump Around. “Twitter’s also allowing Periscope live video in its tweets now,” Flarup added. “Our fans will like that – it keeps them in the stands with a great game day atmosphere and experience.”

The university developed the first two iterations of Badger Game Day internally but chose to outsource the upgrade to sports-app developer YinzCam in June 2015 and gave them a tight deadline to meet — Aug. 30, just in time for Badger football season. YinzCam delivered on time, and then met an Oct. 15 deadline for revisions and tweaks, Fraser said.

Badger Game Day now includes live video replay from four different camera angles; YinzCam’s secret sauce makes streaming video across Wi-Fi more efficient. “Video would have been impossible without the Wi-Fi investment we made,” Fraser said.

Unlike previous iterations that only allowed the participation of a single sponsor, the new Badger Game Day app gives the university the ability to sell individual pages and sports, Fraser said.

Game day beacon message to app

Game day beacon message to app

Perhaps the leading edge of Badger Game Day is its use of Bluetooth-based beacon technology and messaging with geo-fencing. Gimbal Inc. worked with the university customize the technology; Fraser and his team did some social media messaging to alert fans to the feature and to remind them to turn it on.

The first remote use of messaging with beacons and geo-fencing was in Dallas for Wisconsin’s season opener in Dallas at AT&T Stadium; the feature was then used continually at both Camp Randall and the Kohl Center.

“We continued to use this messaging on the road for the Holiday Bowl in San Diego,” Fraser said. “Messages varied from welcome messages that were linked to videos from our players, to informational messages that informed fans about events, to scavenger hunts that engaged our fans at these sites.”

When users first download the app, there’s a proximity allowance message that they must activate to receive beacon messages. So far, the university has sent out 46 unique messages, 21 of which were geo-fenced. At each home game, they geo-fence Camp Randall with a welcome video from players; they reached an average number of 1,160 fans per game with these welcome messages and videos.

“We’re still learning how fans are using [beacons and Bluetooth], and we’re trying not to hit them with too many ads,” Fraser said. By building their trust, it encourages fans to leave their Bluetooth on for the signal to find them. “And we are looking for ways to improve it,” he added. Potential future additions: Features that show the length of lines at concession stands and restrooms, and an online lost and found. They’re also looking for more robust scheduling information inside the app — such as which broadcast network is carrying the game, along with links to Wisconsin’s video stream and live stats.

App development and a new server cost the university about $100,000, according to Fraser and Flarup. Since August 2015, there have been 123,000 downloads of Badger Game Day and nearly 1 million page views. Average time spent per game on the audio feature of the app is about 14 minutes. There’s more room to grow as fans continue to download and use the app; there’s plenty of revenue upside as well as sponsors discover multiple avenues for their messaging and content.