August 23, 2017

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.

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!

Sporting Innovations changes name to FanThreeSixty, no news on lawsuit

Screen Shot 2016-01-21 at 9.14.29 PMKansas City-based sports app developer Sporting Innovations has changed its name to FanThreeSixty, a brand change for what the company calls the desire to create “a more direct connection to its award-winning FanThreeSixty platform.”

However, it’s also possible that the name change is part of a strategy to distance the company from an ongoing legal battle between current FanThreeSixty CEO and former Sporting Innovations CEO Robb Heineman and his former co-CEO Asim Pasha, which started when Sporting Innovations and Heineman filed a lawsuit against Pasha for allegedly conspiring to set up a competing firm using Sporting Innovations assets and intellectual property. That move was followed by Pasha filing counterclaims denying the company’s charges against him while also alleging that he was denied promised ownership stakes in the company for providing the technology behind its stadium-application business.

According to legal representatives for Pasha, the “name change has nothing to do with the lawsuit,” which, according to Pasha’s legal team and news reports, the is still ongoing and scheduled to be heard later this year. FanThreeSixty did not respond to requests for information or an interview about the press release.

So whatever the reason behind its name change, the company formerly known as Sporting Innovations is known primarily for being one of the first movers in the still-nascent field of integrated sports stadium apps, where functionality is designed to not only enhance the fan game-day experience but to also help the team or venue better capture marketing information from digital device use. The company was (and still is) joined at the hip with the Sporting Kansas City Major League Soccer franchise, which was one of the first teams to install Wi-Fi in its stadium and to embrace mobile-device usage by fans.

However, Sporting Innovations’ business of late has not provided much in the way of public customer wins, and several previous customers for the company’s Uphoria mobile device app platform have since dropped the product, including the Pac-12 and the Tampa Bay Lightning. While the Sporting Innovations site had until recently still included links to its Pac-12 and other previous customer wins, the new FanThreeSixty site has scrubbed all the old customer news and links from its site.

Aruba expands beacon management options, adds VenueNext as app development partner

An Aruba Sensor "in the wild" at the University of Oklahoma library, part of a test deployment of the new hardware. Photo: Aruba (click on any photo for a larger image)

An Aruba Sensor “in the wild” at the University of Oklahoma library, part of a test deployment of the new hardware. Photo: Aruba (click on any photo for a larger image)

Stadiums and other large public venues that use any type of Wi-Fi hardware will now be able to use Aruba’s beacon-based apps and beacon management systems, thanks to a new “beacon sensor” introduced by Aruba today.

Part of a wide-ranging announcement heralding “version 2.0” or Aruba’s “mobile engagement” platform, the new beacon sensor — a $195 plug-into-the-wall device that can monitor and manage up to 10 nearby beacons — enables networks using any vendor’s Wi-Fi gear to utilize Aruba’s proven beacon software systems, which include the ability to support wayfinding apps. Prior to today’s announcement, only Aruba-based Wi-Fi networks could closely integrate with the Aruba beacon-based apps, a factor that limited market potential for Aruba’s beacon efforts. The new beacon sensors, Aruba said, also allow for cloud-based management of beacon deployments, which could save huge amounts of time by eliminating the need to physically visit or monitor each beacon in a network.

With the ability now to reach out to non-Aruba Wi-Fi customers, the former Aruba Networks — now formally known as “Aruba, a Hewlett Packard enterprise company” — also expanded its app developer partner program to target several different vertical markets where beacons might find a welcome home, like health care and retail/office situations. VenueNext, the developer of the Levi’s Stadium app — perhaps the poster child deployment of Aruba’s beacon offerings — is now a formal partner with Aruba, which may help VenueNext in its goal of bringing Levi’s Stadium app features like wayfinding maps to other stadiums, including those without Aruba-based Wi-Fi networks.

Aruba beacon at Levi's Stadium. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Aruba beacon at Levi’s Stadium. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR


Bringing beacon management to other networks

Jeff Hardison, director of product marketing for mobile engagement at Aruba, said the beacon sensor came out of internal questioning about how Aruba could help make beacons more mainstream, “and more useful.”

The solution is a small box, not much bigger than a beacon, which has inside both Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and Wi-Fi radios, allowing it to connect both to nearby beacons via Bluetooth and to Wi-Fi access points — importantly, Wi-Fi access points from any vendor. The devices, available for ordering today for $195 each, plug into standard electrical outlets and can manage about 9 to 10 beacons each, Hardison said, depending on proximity.

For VenueNext, the sensor could help the company more easily bring its beacon-based app features to stadiums and venues that don’t have Aruba Wi-Fi networks like Levi’s Stadium. Earlier this year, VenueNext had said it would announce 30 new venues using its apps by the end of the year, but so far it has identified only three new customers, the Orlando Magic, the New York Yankees and the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys, in particular, have a Cisco Wi-Fi network in AT&T Stadium, so it remains to be seen if Aruba beacon sensors will be used there to integrate the wayfinding feature in the AT&T Stadium app.

Screenshot of wayfinding features in Levi's Stadium app. Photo: Aruba

Screenshot of wayfinding features in Levi’s Stadium app. Photo: Aruba

Along with the sensors, with Aruba’s new beacon and sensor management system administrators can also manage beacons remotely, cutting down the time needed to visit each beacon in person to check battery life, software updates or other settings. As beacon deployments start to climb into the thousands per network, such remote management could be a huge time-saver, Hardison said. The beacon management system can also be used with the sensors in non-Aruba Wi-Fi deployments, Aruba said.

On beyond stadiums to libraries, hospitals, airports and more

While the Levi’s Stadium app’s wayfinding feature — which allows San Francisco 49ers fans to follow themselves as a blue dot walking through a map of the venue — is perhaps the most well-known Aruba beacon app, the Meridian platform (obtained by Aruba in a 2013 purchase of indoor Wi-Fi location company Meridian) is also being used to manage beacons at the Orlando International Airport, and is being trialed at the University of Oklahoma’s libraries, according to Aruba.

New software partners in the Aruba mobile engagement stable include Robin, which has a meeting room booking application, and companies with apps to help with navigation in hospitals and schools. The Meridian/Aruba beacon system was also previously used in apps at the Nebraska Furniture Mart and the American Museum of Natural History.

VenueNext adds Yankee Stadium, AT&T Stadium as app clients

Niners CEO Jed York, left, and VenueNext CEO John Paul, center, announce new clients for VenueNext at the Web Summit in Dublin. Photo: Louise Callagy, VenueNext

Niners CEO Jed York, left, and VenueNext CEO John Paul, center, announce new clients for VenueNext at the Web Summit in Dublin. Photo: Louise Callagy, VenueNext

VenueNext, the company built to develop the Levi’s Stadium app for the San Francisco 49ers, announced two new customers today, venues that are leading icons in their respective sports: Yankee Stadium, home of the New York Yankees, and AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys.

Details are a little slim right now, but the formal announcement was made on stage at the Web Summit Tuesday in Dublin, Ireland, where VenueNext CEO John Paul and Niners CEO Jed York (who is also the chairman of VenueNext) jointly announced the news. According to a blog post on its site, VenueNext is now a “strategic partner” with Legends Hospitality, a provider of turnkey venue operations whose clients include the Yankees and the Cowboys. VenueNext said some elements of its technology are already being used in the AT&T Stadium app this season, including parking directions and instant replays of on-field action. In-seat food ordering and delivery, one of the more innovative features developed by VenueNext for the Levi’s Stadium app, is not yet available at AT&T Stadium, however.

More details to come, including whether or not this means that Yankee Stadium will finally be getting Wi-Fi, since the Bronx icon was one of just two MLB venues (Baltimore is the other one) without fan-facing Wi-Fi.

NBA’s Orlando Magic pick VenueNext for new stadium app

Screenshot of new Orlando Magic stadium app built by VenueNext

Screenshot of new Orlando Magic stadium app built by VenueNext

The Orlando Magic and VenueNext are working together to produce a new stadium app for the NBA team, one that will support limited in-seat delivery of food, beverage and merchandise, as well as expanded digital ticketing options and even an in-game virtual betting feature.

Confirming reports from earlier this year, the VenueNext-powered app will be soft-launched during the NBA preseason and ready to go when games count, according to press releases from the team and from VenueNext. The deal with the Magic is the first confirmed VenueNext customer other than the San Francisco 49ers, whose owners helped launch VenueNext in part to build the app for Levi’s Stadium.

Like the Levi’s Stadium app, the Orlando Magic’s new app for the 20,000-seat Amway Center will support multiple game-day fan service functions, including the ability to use a mobile device to store digital tickets, and to pay for other ticketing functions like seat upgrades and parking passes. But the ability to order food, beverage and merchandise to be delivered to the seat will initially be limited to just 1,500 Amway Center fans in select premium seating areas, according to VenueNext. At Levi’s Stadium, all fans in the 69,500-seat venue can order food, beverage and merchandise for delivery via the app.

The app will also support instant replay services, powered by the NBA’s content feed, according to VenueNext. Like last year at Levi’s Stadium, fans in Orlando can expect features to be rolled out as the season progresses. Screenshots of the app provided by VenueNext also show the ability to pre-order concessions to be picked up at express windows, but there was no information about how many fans would be able to use this service.

Another screen view of the proposed new Orlando Magic stadium app

Another screen view of the proposed new Orlando Magic stadium app

Perhaps the most intriguing new twist to the VenueNext platform for Orlando is something the team is calling a “gaming feature,” which is essentially the ability for fans to bet on the game to earn loyalty points, called “Magic Money.” Though it’s not cash, the Magic Money can be exchanged for things like seat upgrades or food and beverage, the team said.

This feature is supported by daily fantasy betting service FanDuel, which had previously been a partner of the Magic and is now apparently the title sponsor of the new app. No details of the gaming feature were announced other than a few lines in a blog post from Magic CEO Alex Martins that said:

Fans will be able to play along with the game based on the stats and plays that are happening in front of them and earn points into their Magic Money marketplace account. Anyone in the arena will be able to play.

Earlier this year VenueNext CEO John Paul said that the firm would announce 30 new customers before the end of the calendar year, a count that is now down to 29. It will be interesting to see if any teams that are currently using another app platform, like the content-focused YinzCam apps, add or change to the VenueNext platform, which is solidly focused on fan services. In his blog post, Magic CEO Martins said he was confident the VenueNext app would improve the already-leading Amway Center fan experience:

During the upcoming season, our fans will be able to interact in so many more ways than in the more static fashion they’ve experienced in the past. Overall, most sports team apps are focused on content, which is one dimensional. Now, through this brand new experience, NBA fans for the first time will have a more dynamic and comprehensive experience.