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.

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.

‘Super Bowl’ atmosphere produces 4.32 TB of Wi-Fi use at Vikings’ U.S. Bank Stadium regular-season opener

Overhead photo of the Vikings' regular-season opener at U.S. Bank Stadium. Credit all photos: Vikings.com.

Overhead photo of the Vikings’ regular-season opener at U.S. Bank Stadium. Credit all photos: Vikings.com.

A “Super Bowl” atmosphere with plenty of built-in social media sharing moments helped push the NFL regular-season opener at U.S. Bank Stadium to a total of 4.32 terabytes of data used on the Wi-Fi network, according to Minnesota Vikings networking officials.

The Vikings’ 17-14 win over the rival Green Bay Packers on Sept. 18 christened the stadium in fine fashion, with 66,800 fans packing the new arena. Even without any promotion for the network or the accompanying team app, almost 32,000 of the fans present logged on to the Wi-Fi network at some point of the game day, according to Tod Caflisch, vice president and chief technical officer for Minnesota Vikings Football. The network also saw a peak concurrent-user mark of 17,500, according to Caflisch.

In addition to the exciting game, the first regular season NFL game at U.S. Bank Stadium saw extensive pregame activities, including historic Vikings player introductions, a mock Viking ship with a fire-breathing dragon, and former Vikings coach Bud Grant blowing the Gjallarhorn. The day also included a halftime show with an orchestra and a Prince tribute, a list of events that no doubt produced multiple selfies, photos and videos shared quickly over social media via the in-stadium network.

No promotion for Wi-Fi, app or food ordering

“I’m not surprised [at the data and connection numbers],” said Caflisch, citing all the festive happenings. Adding to the network usage was also the fact that many fans may have been visiting the stadium for the first time, and recording those moments, a process that had Caflisch worried beforehand about Wi-Fi coverage near the main entry.

Fans gathering outside U.S. Bank Stadium before the game.

Fans gathering outside U.S. Bank Stadium before the game.

“My biggest concern was the huge crowds waiting outside the security area before the start of the game,” Caflisch said. As part of their deal with team app provider VenueNext, U.S. Bank Stadium is also using the firm’s ticket scanners, which run on Wi-Fi.

“We have Wi-Fi there for the ticket scanning, but I was a little concerned about how the sheer density of people would affect the scanning,” Caflisch said. As it turned out, all systems were go, even with the big number of fans coming in the large glass-door gateways.

“It was a non-factor,” Caflisch said.

Other than a few small issues with specific Wi-Fi APs, Caflisch said the Cisco gear-based Wi-Fi and IPTV networks “really worked well” for the home opener, perhaps the sternest test yet for the new deployment from network design and deployment firm AmpThink. Caflisch, who joined the Vikings’ tech team this past summer from the Detroit Red Wings’ Joe Louis Arena, said he initially “had my reservations” about the stadium’s use of railing-mounted APs as the main delivery system in the seating bowl.

Hall of Fame head coach Bud Grant blows the Gjallarhorn.

Hall of Fame head coach Bud Grant blows the Gjallarhorn.

“I had not heard of a railing solution being the main plan — mostly I’d seen it as a retrofit,” said Caflisch. “But the numbers we’ve seen shows it’s working very well.”

While he didn’t provide a number, Caflisch also said that use of the express food ordering service in the team app doubled from preseason totals, again without any external promotion. Right now, the service, which lets fans order and pay for concessions via their phone and then pick up the food and drink at an express window, is only available to certain parts of the stadium.

“We haven’t promoted the app, the ordering or the Wi-Fi to wait and see what the stress loads were,” Caflisch said. “We’re definitely planning to promote all three now.”

Belmont, Saratoga race tracks to get VenueNext app in 2017

Screenshot of what the Saratoga app might look like. Credit: VenueNext

Screenshot of what the Saratoga app might look like. Credit: VenueNext

Operators of the famed Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course horse-racing tracks have signed a deal with VenueNext to bring that company’s mobile app platform to both venues in 2017, with features including online betting integrated into the mobile app.

In an announcement Monday, the New York Racing Association (NYRA) said it will use VenueNext’s platform and mobile app to provide a set of features to race-day fans including the ability to store digital tickets, to purchase food, beverage and merchandise and have those items delivered to seats, to have wayfinding maps to help fans find their way around the facilities, and to view live and archived content.

The VenueNext apps will also integrate the functionality of the NYRA Bets system into the app, so that fans can place wagers directly from their mobile devices, according to the companies. The VenueNext app will be available first at Belmont Park in the spring of 2017, followed by a summer rollout at Saratoga, the companies said.

What will be interesting to watch is whether or not either track updates its connectivity ahead of the app deployment; according to the Belmont website, that track does have free fan-facing Wi-Fi, but only in the clubhouse areas with limited access in the grandstands. The Saratoga list of amenities for fans does not include any Wi-Fi information.

“VenueNext has a proven track record for delivering innovative fan experiences to sporting venues across the country and we’re proud to partner with them,” said NYRA President & CEO Chris Kay, in a prepared statement. “This partnership is yet another step in our efforts to continuously improve the guest experience through the use of technology. By leveraging VenueNext at Belmont and Saratoga Race Tracks, integrating our new NYRA Bets wagering platform and our new HD Video mobile app, NYRA will create a new standard for the horseracing industry and provide the New York fan base that is so passionate about Belmont and Saratoga the very best experiences possible.”

VenueNext, the stadium app development company created to build the stadium app platform for the San Francisco’s Levi’s Stadium, now has seven announced customers for its various stadium-app and stadium-app management systems, including the Orlando Magic, the New York Yankees, the Dallas Cowboys, the Minnesota Vikings, and Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. VenueNext also provided the stadium app for the recent Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium.

US Bank Stadium opens with packed house for soccer game, packed lines for trains

US Bank Stadium during its opening event, Aug. 3. Credit all photos: Pat Coyle, AmpThink (click on any photo for a larger image)

US Bank Stadium during its opening event, Aug. 3. Credit all photos: Pat Coyle, AmpThink (click on any photo for a larger image)

The grand opening event for US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis was futbol, not football, but the friendly between legendary clubs AC Milan and Chelsea still provided a packed house as 64,101 fans filled the Vikings’ new home Wednesday in what local media reports called a generally successful debut.

With any new stadium — and especially with flashy new stadiums like US Bank — there are always unexpected issues that arise when you finally fill the place with ticket buyers. Though we weren’t there, a good amount of reporting from the local paper and scans of social media found generally favorable reviews of the building itself, especially the natural-light atmosphere fostered by the large glass roof (OK, it’s actually an advanced plastic roof).

Among scattered reports of food shortages at concession stands, and foot-traffic issues probably caused by many fans taking just-in-the-door selfies, there were visual confirmations that the Vikings’ plan to have fans use light rail to get to the stadium suffered from some of the issues that plagued Levi’s Stadium early on: Not enough trains or cars on trains to handle the big post-game crush.

Apparently plans we heard to offer overflow bus service haven’t yet materialized, but now the stadium operators have some real data to use to prepare for the first Vikings game, an Aug. 28 preseason tilt, followed on Sept. 18 with the first regular-season game at US Bank Stadium, versus the Vikings’ main rivals, the Green Bay Packers.

The new app built for US Bank Stadium by VenueNext was available for download, but it didn’t include any ability for fans to order food from the app either for express pickup or in-seat delivery during Wednesday’s game. According to VenueNext, express pickup and in-seat delivery services will start during the Vikings preseason games, starting first in small select areas and later expanding to more parts of the stadium.

We also didn’t get any speed tests of the Wi-Fi or cellular networks in the building, so if you were there, let us know how the wireless worked (or didn’t). We would like to thank Pat Coyle from AmpThink for the on-the-scene photos below.

Giant video board shows the packed house

Giant video board shows the packed house

Can you spot the railing-mounted Wi-Fi APs?

Can you spot the railing-mounted Wi-Fi APs?

Good view of the glass (OK, advanced plastic) roof

Good view of the glass (OK, advanced plastic) roof

VenueNext's 'Kezar' scanners in operation at US Bank Stadium

VenueNext’s ‘Kezar’ scanners in operation at US Bank Stadium

Mobile device use was heavy as expected

Mobile device use was heavy as expected

How many selfies? Answer: A lot

How many selfies? Answer: A lot