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.

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.

First round of NHL playoffs saw 8.6 TB of data used on AT&T networks

They’re smaller than football stadiums so hockey arenas aren’t going to generate wireless-data numbers as big as we’ve seen at events like the Super Bowl. But according to AT&T, wireless data use by NHL fans at playoff time took a big leap forward in the first round of the Stanley Cup action, with an average 41 percent increase in data use versus regular-season games at the same venues.

In total, AT&T said it saw more than 8.6 terabytes of wireless data used on its cellular networks at venues hosting first-round NHL playoff games, with an average of 191 GB used at each game. Winning the highest-average data contest was the Dallas Stars, whose fans used more than 379 GB per game during the first round games in American Airlines Center. In a statement that clearly needed a copy editor with sense and facts, AT&T said that the second-place Philadelphia Flyers, who play in a city that is “home of the country’s most passionate sports fans,” averaged 267 GB per game. In Chicago, where the defending Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks took their series to a Game 7, THE most passionate sports fans used an average of 270 GB per game.

Remember, these are only AT&T stats for users on AT&T networks. And anytime the Philly-loving AT&T folks want to talk about passionate sports fans, they know where to find me. We can watch tapes of the Blackhawks-Flyers Stanley Cup finals together while we converse.

Fan experience soars with arrival of Wi-Fi at Montreal Canadiens’ Bell Centre

Fans outside the Bell Centre. All photos: Montreal Canadiens

Fans outside the Bell Centre. All photos: Montreal Canadiens

Fans of the National Hockey League’s Montreal Canadiens finally have a technological stadium experience that matches the team’s successful on-ice legacy, with the debut this season of a fan-facing Wi-Fi network that empowers a wide range of services meant to make the game-day experience second to none.

As part of an announced $100 million refurbishing of the 20-year-old Bell Centre, the new Wi-Fi network is already letting the Canadiens support services like in-seat food and beverage delivery ordered via a mobile-device app, as well as mobile ticketing and fan-loyalty programs. According to Pierre-Eric Belzile, vice president of information and communication technology for the Canadiens, the new network has been in development for several years, when the team determined that its fans needed better connectivity inside the 21,288-seat arena.

“Since we have Bell [Canada] as a partner, we have a completely new DAS inside the arena,” Belzile said. But a few years ago, he said the team was looking at making video available to the public, and to support “all the new devices” coming online, the idea of providing Wi-Fi to fans started taking shape.

Sticking with what works

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 and other in-depth 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 arena, Belzile said, already had a Wi-Fi network for internal operations, including point-of-sale systems for concessions and ticketing, that was installed in 2006. Belzile, who has been at the stadium for the past 15 years, said he liked that system’s infrastructure, which was provided then by Nortel. The familiarity with the technology led Belzile and his team to look first to the current Nortel technology owner, Avaya, for a buildout to a fan-facing system.

Avaya Wi-Fi AP on an overhead mount

Avaya Wi-Fi AP on an overhead mount

“I had such a good experience with the [Nortel] switches, how flexible they are, it was a normal decision to look at Avaya,” Belzile said. That look turned into a deal, and for this season Avaya gear is at the base of the 500-AP strong network that brings free Wi-Fi to every seat in the house.

For an Oct. 15 game, Belzile said the network was already working well, with approximately 4,000 unique users and a peak of 3,200 concurrent connections, even with little to no promotion of the Wi-Fi by the team. That night the Canadiens saw 320 gigabytes of data carried on the Wi-Fi network, a nightly number that has no doubt grown as the season progressed.

With an upper bowl that circles the entire stadium, Belzile said “it was an easy call” to mount all antennas overhead, and not trying to go the more costly route of installing them under seats. Cement columns in the backs of rows also made for convenient AP mounting spots, Belzile said. For the hard-to-reach rows down near the ice, Belzile said that Bell has made extra efforts to improve the DAS coverage there, ensuring that the closest seats also have good connectivity.

Bringing food to the fan

The new network also allows the Canadiens to provide in-seat food and beverage delivery to fans who order from the app, a service available to all seats except the “Club Dejardins” level, where the team said food is included with the ticket. Though no food-delivery stats have yet been provided by the team, the team said its goal is to deliver all orders within five minutes of them being placed.

Wi-Fi mounts on concrete post

Wi-Fi mounts on concrete post

The concession-delivery service is just part of an aggressive mobile-device strategy, one that includes a social media promotion headlined by the “Club 1909” (for the year the team was founded) program, which offers benefits like free tickets for loyalty points accrued.

Belzile said fans at the stadium can use the team’s mobile app to view instant replays, as well as participate in online quiz contests. On the concourses, the team added HD displays that show live game action, so that fans out of their seats don’t have to miss what’s happening on the ice. The multicast video system, Belzile said, is supported by the stadium’s Avaya-based network, and is easy to update dynamically, instead of the old static ads that used to be displayed.

“Sponsors have been very pleased with the results” from the new displays, Belzile said.

Though a bit of a newcomer to the stadium-network space, Avaya already has some big-name deployments under its belt, including its namesake Avaya Stadium in San Jose, Calif., home of pro soccer’s San Jose Earthquakes, as well as a yet-unannounced deployment already working at the Pepsi Center in Denver, home of the NBA’s Nuggets and the NHL’s Avalanche.

Belzile, who said he took a trip to San Jose recently to see the huge outdoor bar that is one of the signatures of Avaya Stadium, said he’s extremely pleased with the new Bell Centre network and what it supports: Solid connectivity for fans.

“We wanted to let people do whatever they wanted to do with their devices, anywhere in the building, even when they are at the game,” Belzile said. “The [new] network really helps improve the experience for the fans.”

Boston Bruins  v Montreal Canadiens - Game Three