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.

Hockey crowd melted down Levi’s Stadium network and app, overwhelmed light rail

Levi's Stadium scoreboard during Stadium Series hockey game. Credit all images: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for larger image).

Levi’s Stadium scoreboard during Stadium Series hockey game. Credit all images: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for larger image).

From a financial and publicity standpoint Saturday’s Coors Light Stadium Series hockey game at Levi’s Stadium was a success, with 70,205 fans packing the football facility to watch the San Jose Sharks lose to the Los Angeles Kings, 2-1. But while the sellout crowd contributed to the general electricity that filled the venue, the mass of people also caused problems with the stadium’s vaunted wireless network, knocking out some parts of the Wi-Fi and cellular networks and overwhelming the unique feature of the stadium app designed to allow fans to have food and drinks delivered to their seats.

Hockey fans also swamped the VTA light rail system, causing some fans to wait as long as two hours before they could catch a bus or train to get home from the stadium. Though light rail officials said they will work on correcting the problems, the commuting jam does not bode well for a facility that is scheduled to host Super Bowl 50 in less than a year’s time, especially since many Super Bowl fans are expected to be traveling from San Francisco to the Santa Clara, Calif., neighborhood where Levi’s Stadium sits.

According to Roger Hacker, senior manager for corporate communications for the San Francisco 49ers, the Levi’s Stadium network team identified “isolated interruptions” of the Wi-Fi network, due to “frequency coordination issues” that the network team had not seen at previous events. Hacker also said that one unnamed wireless carrier had “issues” with its base station firmware, but said that the problems were resolved by game’s end. (For the record, I am a Verizon Wireless customer and I had “issues” getting cellular connectivity Saturday, so draw your own conclusions.)

Since the Niners’ full explanation is somewhat light on facts and numbers, we will first offer a “fan’s view” of the events Saturday night, under the caveat that Mobile Sports Report was not attending the game as press, but instead as just a regular hockey fan (one who purchased two full-price tickets) who was looking forward to using the stadium’s technology to enhance the game experience. Unfortunately for this fan, the Levi’s Stadium network, app and transit services all fell down on the job.

Light show a dud

Though the MSR team had no problems getting to the stadium — our light rail train out of Mountain View at about 5:30 p.m. was relatively empty — I noticed some irregularities in network connections during the pregame ceremonies, when I tried to join in the fan-participation light show, a technology feature recently added to the Levi’s Stadium app especially for the Stadium Series game. Like many people in our area, I couldn’t get the app to work, leaving me staring at a spinning graphic while others in the stadium saw their phones contribute flashing lights during pre-game music.

After the light show segment ended, I noticed that the Levi’s app was performing erratically, quitting on its own and kicking my device off the Wi-Fi network. After rebooting the device (a new Apple iPhone 6 Plus) I still couldn’t connect to the Wi-Fi, an experience I’ve never had at Levi’s. Turning off the Wi-Fi didn’t help, as cellular service also seemed poor. Since I wasn’t really there to work — I just wanted to enjoy the game with my older brother, who was in town for the event — I posted a quick tweet and went back to just watching the Sharks play poorly for the first 20 minutes.

One of the benefits of being a close follower of Levi’s Stadium technology is that when you tweet, people listen. By the middle of the first intermission, I was visited personally by Anoop Nagwani, the new head of the Levi’s Stadium network team, along with a technician from Aruba Networks, the Wi-Fi gear supplier at the stadium. Even with laptops and scanners, my visitors couldn’t immediately discern the network problem; they were, however, visited by a number of other nearby fans, who figured out who they were and relayed their own networking problems to them.

To be clear: I didn’t spend the game as I usually do at Levi’s, wandering around to see how the network is performing at as many spots as I can. But even if the outage was only in our area, that’s a significant problem for Levi’s Stadium, which has touted its technology every chance it gets. I also noticed problems with cellular connectivity all night, which leads me to believe that the network issues were more widespread than just at my seating area.

The official statement from Hacker describing the problems doesn’t pin any specific blame, but a guess from us is that perhaps something in the mix of systems used by the entertainment performers (there was a small stage to one side of the rink where musicians performed) and media new to the facility caused the Wi-Fi problem. Here is the official statement on the Wi-Fi issues:

The Levi’s Stadium network team identified isolated interruptions of the WiFi system in specific sections on Saturday night due to frequency coordination issues previously unseen at the venue and unique to this event. Saturday’s event featured extra radio systems not typical to previous stadium events, some of which were found to be unauthorized by event frequency coordinators. To avoid similar situations in the future, Levi’s Stadium management will be initiating additional frequency control protocols for all events.

Hacker said the network team did not track exactly how widespread the outages were, so could not provide a number of fans affected. But enough apparently did connect, since according to Hacker, the Levi’s network saw near-record traffic Saturday night, with a total of 3.0 terabytes of data carried, second only to the season-opening Niners game back in September, which saw 3.3 TB of data used on the Wi-Fi. Hacker said there were 24,792 unique devices connected to Wi-Fi during Saturday’s event, with a peak concurrent user number of 17,400 users, also second highest behind the season-opener total of 19,0000. The Stadium Series game did set a new mark for throughput with 3.5 Gbps on the network just before the start of the game, a surge that seems to be behind some of the other problems.

Food ordering overwhelmed

During the intermission, my brother and I went out on the 300-level concourse to get something to eat and drink — and encountered one of the untold stories of Levi’s Stadium: the incredibly long and slow lines for concessions. While I haven’t researched this problem in depth, after 10 minutes of inertia in our line I told my brother I would use the app’s food and drink ordering function to get us some vittles and beverages. Finally able to connect via Wi-Fi while on the concourse I placed an order for two beers and two hot dogs, and didn’t worry that the delivery time was 20 minutes. That would put it at the very latest near the end of the second period, which was fine by me since it meant I didn’t have to wait in lines. Or so I thought.

Back in my seat, I was troubled by the fact that even halfway through the period, the app had not switched yet from ordered to “en route.” I also got some error messages I had never seen at Levi’s Stadium before:

When the period ended and there was still no movement from the app (which I only checked sporadically since Wi-Fi never fully connected in my seat), I went back on the concourse where I found a small, angry crowd around the food-runner window at the closest concession stand. Pretty much, everyone there had the same problem I had: We’d ordered food and the app had said that the order had been taken, but nothing had happened since then.

Fans trying to figure out why their food orders weren't delivered

Fans trying to figure out why their food orders weren’t delivered

The situation wasn’t good since nobody at the food-runner window had any technology that would allow them to communicate with the app or network team; they couldn’t even cancel orders or make sure credit card refunds would be processed, which only served to increase the frustration for the fans who were just trying to use the services as advertised.

In the end, the staff at the delivery window did the best they could — which at one point resulted in someone producing slips of paper which the waiting fans used to write down their orders; one staffer then tried to fulfill those orders as best he could, going to the concession stand and bringing them out one by one. After waiting nearly the full intermission (missing Melissa Etheridge) I was given two cold hot dogs and two draft beers. Since there were no food holders left at the stand, I had to put the hot dogs into my jacket pockets and hold both beers. At least I didn’t starve or go thirsty, but it was a far cry from the delivered-to-the-seat functionality I had raved about to my brother that simply didn’t materialize.

During this process I sent an email to Louise Callagy, vice president of marketing at stadium app developer VenueNext. Her in-game response was:

“Levi’s Stadium app usage exceeded any previous event and set new records, causing delivery and order fulfillment delays. As always, we will do a post mortem after the event, and make the necessary adjustments to operational and staffing support, including systems performance analysis. We apologize to any fans who were inconvenienced.”

According to Hacker, the Levi’s Stadium food-runner staffing was at the same level as a regular-season Niners’ game; however, Hacker said the hockey fans broke the previous ordering records before the first period was over. Here is the official statement on the food ordering snafu:

With more than 31,000 new downloads of the Levi’s Stadium App – 20 percent more than had ever been seen at any previous stadium event – the [food ordering] system experienced 50 percent higher order volume in the just first hour of the game than had been seen during any previous event. The dramatic increase led to the extended wait times and cancelled orders experienced by some fans.

In a separate email, Hacker did not provide an exact number for how many fans were represented by the term “some,” but he did confirm that “no customers were charged for unfulfilled orders.”

Still, the system shouldn’t have had any unfulfilled orders, at least not according to the Niners’ consistent hype of the network and the app. Remember, Niners officials had long been confident that their network would be able to stand up to any load. Such was not the case Saturday night.

The long wait home

VTA line following Levi's Stadium hockey game

VTA line following Levi’s Stadium hockey game

After an exciting third period and a game that went down to the final horn, we left the stadium and were immediately greeted by a mass of people packing in to the VTA departure area. With too many people and not enough trains and buses, we spent almost an hour moving like slow cattle until we eventually got on a train to Mountain View. We considered ourselves lucky, since it looked like the folks heading south on VTA were in for an even longer wait.

When we got to the Mountain View station, we waited almost another hour to leave since Caltrain (nicely) kept its last train at the station until two more VTA trains brought the stragglers in from Levi’s. Though VTA has since claimed there were more than twice the “normal” number of riders than it saw at Niners games this season, there was no explanation why VTA didn’t or couldn’t provide more capacity after it saw more fans use the service to get to the game. What was most unpleasant was the overall unorganized method of boarding the trains, just a massive group line with one VTA person on a bullhorn telling everyone to make sure they bought a ticket.

In the end, the time it took to get from the start of the VTA line to my house in San Mateo was three hours — almost as long as the game itself. With some other “special” events like Wrestlemania and concerts coming up at Levi’s and the Super Bowl 50 next year, it’s clear there is lots of work that needs to be done to make it a good experience for all who purchase a ticket, especially those looking to use public transport and the app features to enhance their game-day experience.

Sharks and Kings on the ice at Levi's Stadium

Sharks and Kings on the ice at Levi’s Stadium

Levis’ Stadium app adds special features for Sharks-Kings outdoor hockey game

Mocked-up screen shot of what the Levi's Stadium app will look like for Saturday's outdoor hockey game. Credit: VenueNext

Mocked-up screen shot of what the Levi’s Stadium app will look like for Saturday’s outdoor hockey game. Credit: VenueNext

Other than mobile ticketing, all of the regular features of the Levi’s Stadium mobile app will be active for Saturday’s outdoor hockey game between the San Jose Sharks and the Los Angeles Kings, with fans able to use the app over the free Wi-Fi network or the enhanced cellular DAS to do things like watch instant replays, or to order food, drinks and merchandise and have those items delivered to every seat in the 68,500-seat venue.

New for the app as a special treat for fans at the Coors Light NHL Stadium Series event is a “live, crowd-generated light show” experience, using technology from Baltimore, Md.-based Wham City Lights that synchronizes smartphones to produce a mass lighting effect. The app feature will, according to the NHL and the Levi’s app producer VenueNext, “blanket the stadium with a synchronized, multi-colored visualization of the live musical entertainment on the field,” if of course enough fans download the app and activate it at the right time.

Just like Niners fans this past football season, hockey fans at Levi’s Stadium on Saturday will be able to download the free app and use it to watch live streaming video of the event, as well as instant replays from several angles. Fans can also use the app to purchase parking tickets and get directions to the stadium as well as their seating section once inside the venue.

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 4.18.31 PMWhat will be interesting to see is if hockey fans generate more wireless data usage than football fans, a possibility since hockey has two natural built-in mid-game breaks as opposed to football’s halftime. Since the event is also more of a “bucket list” type game than a regular-season football game, the possibility exists that Sharks, Kings and general hockey fans in attendance may break the previous Levi’s data record set at the Niners’ home opener. Stay tuned to MSR next week, when with any luck we’ll get wireless usage stats from the Levi’s Stadium network team.

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.

San Jose Sharks Enlist Wayin for Twitter Hub

sjsharks


ESPN’s deal with Twitter
the other day was an expected development as there is a growing desire to hook into social media by sports franchises and broadcasters and another that is following on that same path is the San Jose Sharks Hockey team.

The Sharks have teamed with a Denver-based startup called Wayin using that company’s social media engagement hub to create a Twitter hub for fans of the team and of the National Hockey League.

The Shark’s Wayin hub, called the Sharks Game Day Hub, is more than just a central depository for all of the twitter activity that naturally follows a team when it is in the playoffs. It serves the fans a central site where they can gain a degree of control over what they are following.

The hub features both team generated content as well as a variety of other information including tab on Tweet volume, Twitter activity from players, coaches, broadcasters and Sharks staff, imbedded broadcast video interviews, and fan Tweets. The hub also supports Instagram so that fans can also follow along on images and photos posted by others.

While the casual fan may not have heard of Wayin, in part because it’s a startup and secondly by being located in Denver it is off the beaten paths for most new tech companies. However it has a prestigious foundation starting with co-founder and Chairman Scott McNealy, former top honcho of Sun Microsystems. Anyone from the Bay Area could tell you that McNealy is a huge hockey fan and that once for April Fools played hockey with former pro hockey players with Sharks players in attendance.

It will be interesting to see how a hub such as this will compete with the emerging class of apps that put fans in connection with athletes. A number have emerged over the years in the app space but none seem to have caught the attention of the mainstream. By bringing a team into the mix fans might be able to connect more directly with players using this type of hub.