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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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.

AT&T: Data use growth continues during second rounds of NBA, NHL playoffs

Photo: NBA.com

Photo: NBA.com

As the NHL and NBA playoffs march toward the championship rounds, fans at second-round playoff games continued to use more wireless data than during the regular season, according to figures from AT&T’s cellular networks inside the postseason-hosting venues.

For both leagues the average and overall usage was almost dead even — according to figures sent to us by AT&T, fans on its networks at NHL sites used a total of 5 terabytes of wireless traffic, an average of 210 GB per game. For the NBA, AT&T said it saw a total of 4.1 TB of data used during second-round games, for an average of 211 GB per game.

In the NBA, the leading data use on AT&T networks was at games hosted by the Oklahoma City Thunder, with an average of 422 GB per game at Chesapeake Energy Arena. For hockey the most data was used by fans at games hosted by the Dallas Stars at the American Airlines Center, where AT&T said it saw and average of 390 GB used per second-round game.

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.

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

T-Mobile Arena opens in Las Vegas, with 565 Wi-FI APs

T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas, on the official April 6 opening. All photos: Cox Business (click on any photo for a larger image)

T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas, on the official April 6 opening. All photos: Cox Business (click on any photo for a larger image)

If they build it, will professional hockey or basketball teams come? The first part of that question has already been answered, with the official opening of T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on April 6, just in time for a kickoff concert from the Killers. With 565 Cisco Wi-Fi access points, the arena is well-enabled for wireless access; the big question is, will an NHL or NBA team soon call the place home?

With no deal announced for either league it’s an open-ended question. For now, the 20,000-seat venue, located just west of the strip near the New York New York hotel/casino (right next to the freeway) will have to be satisfied hosting all kinds of events from concerts to one-off sports events like the Harlem Globetrotters (April 19) and a WWE event in June. Fans at any event will be able to use free Wi-Fi provided by Cox Business, which is the “exclusive Technology Integration/Telecommunications Services Provider,” according to a press release from the official opening ceremonies.

While we haven’t visited the arena yet — we are looking forward to a hosted tour during this summer’s SEAT Conference in July — the $375 million multi-purpose venue, owned by a joint venture between AEG and MGM Resorts International, looks pretty cool with its overhanging lounges and outdoor plaza with real, live trees, a rarity on the strip. Inside, the tech underpinnings sound state of the art, beginning with a 10-Gigabit fiber optic network that serves as the arena’s backbone.

Special shrouds for the Wi-Fi APs

Custom shroud for Wi-Fi APs at T-Mobile Arena

Custom shroud for Wi-Fi APs at T-Mobile Arena

According to figures provided to us by Cox Business folks, the 565 Wi-FI APs include a mix of indoor and outdoor models from Cisco, some designed for office-type settings and some designed to withstand outdoor temperatures and weather. According to Cox its on-site engineers also designed a “vanity cover” type of shroud, which is more aesthetically pleasing to the eye while also helping keep the AP safe from “disruptions,” like possibly being bumped or some other physical intrusion.

The arena will also use Cisco’s StadiumVision system to provide synchronized content feeds to the 767 4K-capable digital displays throughout the venue. Thanks to the Cox sponsorship, that content could include “all 60 channels of high-definition news, sports and entertainment content from the Cox cable channel lineup as well as live in-house feeds from the arena,” according to Cox.

We have also heard reports, but have not confirmed with the company, that Mobilitie will be providing the in-venue DAS. Mobilitie’s involvement is not a big surprise, given that the company partnered with MGM in the past to bring Wi-Fi to the resort company’s casinos. Back when the T-Mobile naming sponsorship was announced, there were reports of special discounts and VIP access for T-Mobile customers, but so far none of that information was easily discovered on the arena’s website. Stay tuned for more updates as we get them on the DAS/cellular side of things; anyone who visits the arena soon should take a speedtest and post the results here in the comments.

Jeff Breaux, vice president of western operations, Cox Business, (left) and Derrick R. Hill, vice president, Cox Business/Hospitality Network, gesture toward the exterior digital signage at T-Mobile Arena.

Jeff Breaux, vice president of western operations, Cox Business, (left) and Derrick R. Hill, vice president, Cox Business/Hospitality Network, gesture toward the exterior digital signage at T-Mobile Arena.