SBJ/Feb. 7-13, 2011/Facilities

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  • Calling signals: Verizon upgrading coverage at Ravens’ stadium

    Don Muret
    Verizon Wireless is paying for the cost to install about 600 small antennas at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore to improve coverage for cell phone users.

    The project, valued at seven figures, will put a distributed antenna system in place at the NFL facility to accommodate 4G phone users and a much larger number of fans using smartphones in general, said Roy Sommerhof, the Ravens’ vice president of stadium operations. The new system should resolve issues that stadiums experience with providing adequate cell coverage when they are filled with 70,000 or more fans, many of whom are using mobile devices, Sommerhof said.

    The system will improve coverage for all users, regardless of their carrier. From the facility owner’s perspective, it makes sense to install one universal DAS platform instead of four to five systems tied to individual carriers, said Jim Golden, Verizon Wireless’ network manager of project implementation for the Baltimore-Washington region.

    “The fan experience is important for Verizon,” Golden said. “We want fans to be able to send photos and check other scores. As the number of smartphones has increased, so has the need for coverage directly proportional to data plans.”

    Verizon Wireless is a Ravens partner at M&T Bank Stadium, a relationship that gave the company the first opportunity to do the project. It is separate from Verizon’s marketing agreement, Golden said.

    The carrier has already completed DAS installations at Nationals Park and Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. The same is true at 91,704-seat FedEx Field, which has the largest number of permanent seats in the NFL.

    The Redskins, unlike the Ravens, had three carriers install new antennas. “Every stadium is different,” Golden said.

    The job in Baltimore should start by the end of this month, Sommerhof said.

    TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
    Some Wild veterans will provide flashes of inspiration for the St. Pete Times Forum update.
    LIGHTNING STRIKES TWICE:
    The same group that developed Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, a 10-year-old NHL facility that became the benchmark for future big league hockey venues, is now in the early stages of developing a $35 million renovation for the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa.

    Tod Leiweke, the Lightning’s CEO, took over in Tampa in July after serving in the same role for the past seven years with the Seattle Seahawks. In the late 1990s, Leiweke was chiefly responsible for developing the Minnesota Wild’s new arena when he was the expansion team’s president and chief operating officer.

    At that time, Martha Fuller, the Wild’s chief financial officer; Steve Griggs, vice president of ticket sales; and architect/project director Ray Chandler were part of the executive team in Minnesota. Together they helped produce an arena that truly celebrated hockey in a state that loves the sport.

    Now, all three play key roles for the Lightning as the club plans upgrades to a 15-year-old building, an extension of the team’s effort to rebrand itself.

    Chandler, vice president of design and construction, is back with Leiweke after getting a call from Jac Sperling, the Wild’s former CEO, who put Chandler in touch with Jeff Vinik, the Lightning’s new owner. Their job is to improve on what Xcel did to integrate design and function with new sponsorship opportunities to drive revenue, Chandler said.

    “Being part of Xcel was interesting,” Leiweke said, “because that’s when I first learned that architecture really does matter, because at that point in time we certainly didn’t have the most expensive building in the world, but we had a building that was really thoughtfully designed and connected to the team brand.”

    “That building had a soul. … We knew what we were and ultimately stood for,” he said. “It was a lesson I will carry with me the rest of my career.”

    Don Muret can be reached at dmuret@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @breakground.

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