SBJ/March 20-26, 2017/In Depth

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  • Wi-Fi’s next frontier

    Construction at The Battery Atlanta, next to SunTrust Park, is nearing completion.
    Photo by: AP IMAGES
    Connectivity in sports has grown rapidly over the past five years, and the newest big league venues all feature robust Wi-Fi and distributed antenna systems to meet demand from users of mobile devices.

    Now teams are setting their wireless sights beyond the walls of stadiums and arenas, toward the mixed-use projects that are increasingly being built around them.

    They’re expanding those services to the retail and entertainment districts to keep both fans attending the games and other visitors connected at all times in these sports-driven neighborhoods. In doing so, teams can now track customer behavior and capture data beyond their facilities and ultimately produce more opportunities to generate revenue.

    As more teams build these “live, work and play” communities around sports venues, mapping wireless is not just about connecting fans in arenas and stadiums anymore, said Eric McLoughlin, director of marketing and product management for Comcast. Two years ago, Comcast signed a multiyear technology and real estate deal with the Atlanta Braves for their new ballpark and mixed-use project.

    “Sports is the anchor, but the real value is being able to bring in small and large businesses and residential, and translate that into a service that extends past the stadium to the mixed-use development,” McLoughlin said.

    The model is still evolving, but the whole purpose behind it is to get smartphone users — whose numbers are projected to surpass 250 million over the next three years — connected with the team’s brand earlier in the day, said Bob Jordan, senior vice president of team and venue services for Van Wagner Sports and Entertainment and a tech consultant for sports and mixed-use projects.

    The Atlanta Braves and Detroit Red Wings, both Van Wagner clients on the tech side, are the first teams to develop this new, expanded platform, Jordan said. Both teams will open new facilities this year equipped with wireless infrastructure that extends Wi-Fi coverage beyond their buildings to the retail, entertainment, office and residential units making up the mixed-use components in their respective markets.

    They’re not alone. Elsewhere, the new NFL stadium in Los Angeles opening in 2019, the Texas Rangers’ new ballpark (2020) and the Tampa Bay Lightning’s waterfront development next to Amalie Arena all plan to package mixed-use projects under their control with wireless technology at their venues, sources said.

    Comcast’s Xfinity brand is visible beyond SunTrust Park’s outfield wall. Out of the spotlight, Comcast is ensuring connectivity in the areas around the ballpark.
    Photo by: COMCAST (2)
    Braves executives said they’re looking at ways to generate new sponsorship dollars outside SunTrust Park, their new stadium, tied to the experience of visitors to The Battery Atlanta, the 1.5-million-square-foot mixed-use project next door.

    They’re exploring new content delivered through the team’s mobile application, including the use of augmented reality, surrounding events in The Battery on non-game days, plus advertising that more closely relates to the retail and restaurant visitors of the
    development.

    For example, points of interest around The Battery may “come alive” with information and additional content through embedded functionality in the mobile app, said Derek Schiller, president of business for the Braves, the ballpark and the mixed-use project.

    “There’s the potential for revenue streams that [teams] have never had before,” Jordan said. “When you look at all the circulation areas, parking garages, plazas and other destinations, you’re now able to create extensions of your facility on game days and non-game days. You’re now able to have that conversation with your fans before they even get into the building.”

    Just the basics

    Wasserman and Navigate Research asked fans about tech enhancements they would like to see. The answers reflect a preference for the simple things in the fan experience.

    None – just want to see the game 49%
    Large HD video screen 37%
    Ability to connect to Wi-Fi 21%
    Ordering food and beverage from seat 16%
    In-game seat upgrades 13%
    Ability to see who will sit next to me 8%
    Interaction with my fantasy team 6%
    Seeing social media posts on screen 6%

    Source: “The Fan Experience Playbook,” Wasserman and Navigate Research


    Depending on the vendor, the cost to install wireless infrastructure at arenas ranges from $3 million to $5 million, and for stadiums the expense goes up to $5 million to $7 million, said Chip Foley, an executive with AmpThink, a company that designs and builds the equipment. From there, Jordan said it’s difficult to pinpoint the additional costs for installing Wi-Fi access points in the mixed-use piece outside the venue because it’s largely driven by density and the area of coverage required to connect with the facility.

    “There is no perfect science to it,” he said, referring to determining the total cost of linking Wi-Fi systems between sports facilities and mixed-use.

    In Atlanta, Comcast Business, the enterprise division of Comcast Corp., pays the freight as part of signing a landmark sponsorship with the Braves that includes Comcast building its new Southeast headquarters at The Battery. Five to seven years after supplying Levi’s Stadium with state-of-the-art connectivity, Comcast is outfitting its first mixed-use project tied to a sports facility, company officials said.

    As a founding partner at SunTrust Park, the Braves’ 41,500-seat facility opening March 30, Comcast provides video, voice and high-speed internet services at both the stadium and The Battery Atlanta.

    The Braves’ network, powered by two 100-gigabit Ethernet lines, will deliver internet speeds almost three times faster than the 49ers’ 40-gigabit system. The 1,350 total Wi-Fi access points across the ballpark and The Battery, installed by Cisco Sports and Entertainment, include 700 access points in the mixed-use development.

    Turnkey Sports Poll

    The following are results of the Turnkey Sports Poll taken in January. The survey covered more than 2,000 senior-level sports industry executives spanning professional and college sports.

    As a fan, how important to you is having a reliable Wi-Fi or cell-phone connectivity at live sporting events?

    A factor with moderate importance to my experience 56%
    Not a very important factor 35%
    One of the most important factors for my experience 9%
    Not sure / no response 0%

    When attending live entertainment events during the last 12 months, how frequently have you used the official venue/team app?

    Every time 2%
    Most of the time 14%
    Sometimes 26%
    Rarely 36%
    Never 21%
    N/A 1%
    Not sure / no response 0%

    Which of the following mobile app features provides the most value to fans attending a live event?

    Mobile ticketing 25%
    General venue maps, directions and/or information 18%
    In-seat ordering of food/merchandise 16%
    Instant replays/video content 13%
    Event stats access 12%
    Ability to locate shortest restroom or vendor line 5%
    Seat upgrade opportunities 2%
    Not sure / no response 9%

    Source: Turnkey Sports & Entertainment in conjunction with SportsBusiness Journal. Turnkey Intelligence specializes in research, measurement and lead generation for brands and properties. Visit www.turnkeyse.com.

    Those access points help connect mobile users to the multiple restaurants, retail shops and entertainment venues. Separately, as part of their rental agreements, residents living in The Battery’s 550 apartments become subscribers to Comcast’s Xfinity X1-branded internet and cable television.

    Comcast won’t share its subscribers’ data with the Braves, company officials said. In spaces such as the plaza outside SunTrust Park, the team has access to consumer data through the shared public Wi-Fi network, Jordan said.

    Overall, the Braves’ goal is to develop a seamless experience for baseball fans attending games at SunTrust Park and hanging out at The Battery, as well as other consumers shopping, eating, drinking and living there, team officials said. To make it happen, the team worked with MLB Advanced Media to develop technology that incorporates all aspects of the ballpark and The Battery into one mobile application. It’s the first time non-ballpark content appears in a mobile app under MLB’s technology group, according to Greg Gatti, the Braves’ senior director of information technology.

    So for example, a fan sitting in the ballpark in the seventh inning who starts getting hungry can tap the mobile application to get a list of The Battery’s restaurants and make a dinner reservation for after the game, said Greg Mize, the Braves’ director of digital.

    Gatti said, “The infrastructure was designed to be able to do that, because we want to have a single fan experience, whether you’re at The Battery or the ballpark. Your limitations will be based on what your [mobile device] can actually deliver right now.”

    In Detroit, the same tech model applies to Little Caesars Arena, which will open in September as the new home of the Red Wings and the Pistons.

    The arena anchors a mixed-use development called The District Detroit, covering 55 blocks as part of the redevelopment of the city’s downtown. All five neighborhoods in the District — including Woodward Square where the arena is situated — will be covered by the arena’s wireless network.

    “We’re following that same methodology, where Pistons and Red Wings fans are connected to our infrastructure a mile away from the facility, before they ever get to a game or other event,” Jordan said.

    Little Caesars Arena’s proximity to Ford Field and Comerica Park make it possible to connect the three downtown Detroit venues to one comprehensive network in the future.
    Photo by: LITTLE CAESARS ARENA
    Comcast is part of the Detroit development but not to the extent of its project in Atlanta, Jordan said. Olympia Entertainment has not officially announced its technology providers because not all of those agreements have been signed, company officials said.

    The Red Wings will get access to wireless data in public spaces such as the “piazza,” the 31,000-square-foot outdoor plaza on the arena’s west side, said John King, vice president of IT and innovation for Olympia Entertainment, the team’s parent company.

    Little Caesars Arena plans to program the piazza with its large video board as a multiuse space that can be active on non-game days. Events might include a Detroit Lions tailgate party — the Lions’ Ford Field is nearby — for up to 5,000 people that could be connected to the arena’s Wi-Fi network.

    Future phases could include linking the arena’s wireless system to the Fox Theatre, and potentially, Comerica Park, given the Detroit Tigers operate their own Wi-Fi network, King said. The Ilitch family owns the Red Wings and Tigers and operates their facilities, and they own the Fox Theatre. All three buildings are within a six-block radius.

    “We’re looking at where we can bridge those gaps and looking at what would phase two look like, how do we create a more seamless world, how do we bring the loyalty platforms in play [on mobile devices] that can be used at multiple venues, restaurants, whatever we have to entice fans and give them something special when we’re down here,” King said.

    The proximity of Ford Field makes it possible to connect Detroit’s three downtown sports facilities to one comprehensive network down the line, Jordan said.

    “We’re putting the foundation in place that over time … the microcosm of the sports economy in Detroit is going to be a very converged experience,” he said.

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  • To win users, sports apps designed to do it all

    The average U.S. consumer uses 27 smartphone apps a month regardless of genre, according to comScore, a number that has stayed relatively static in recent years. A majority of users download either no new apps or just one each month, leaving little opportunity for developers to expand the virtual shelf space.

    So to make the shortlist on fans’ phones, sports-related apps are packing more features.

    MLBAM’s Arena gives NHL fans access to tickets, food and upgrades.
    MLB Advanced Media’s Ballpark, for example, includes single-game ticketing and season-ticket management, wayfinding, food and beverage, content, and seat and amenity upgrades powered by Atlanta-based Experience. MLBAM, which also manages the NHL’s digital rights, has developed a similar hockey product, called Arena.

    Other leagues such as the NBA have embedded more robust ticketing and in-venue elements in their primary league apps. Ticketing entities such as Ticketmaster and StubHub are similarly merging social media and other outside elements into their apps.

    Perhaps most dramatically, Experience is piloting a subscription-based mobile ticketing product, InWeGo, that combines access to more than a dozen pro and college teams and events in the Atlanta area for a flat monthly fee. The service thus far has proven particularly popular with more casual fans who don’t have a history with most, if not all, of the participating teams and don’t typically have the official team apps on their phones.

    “Teams are obviously recognizing that it is not just about the game now, but all the things in and around the game, and those things also need to be addressed with real products,” said Greg Foster, Experience chief executive. “Going to a game is becoming more of a create-your-own-adventure type of thing, which in turn requires a lot more flexibility and innovation.”

    This notion aligns with a broader industry shift that’s developing, toward a more fluid concept of sports ticketing in which a traditional season ticket will likely be joined by a membership-based model. That model seeks to allow fans to receive ticket inventory that will change in size and location from game to game in return for their overall spending level, with the mobile phone assuming a central place in the shift.

    Parallel to that, many teams and ticketing companies continue to move toward paperless ticketing systems that make a user’s phone the means of entry.

    “What we see is the evolution of a new way to sell tickets, and one that’s really based primarily around the phone and the mobile experience,” said Russ D’Souza, co-founder of SeatGeek, which recently debuted its SeatGeek Open platform in collaboration with Sporting KC and Major League Soccer. SeatGeek is pulling several other ticketing and e-commerce partners such as Gametime into the effort.

    Amid all the mobile innovation in sports, developers are increasingly looking outside the industry into somewhat related offerings such as music’s Spotify and movies’ Netflix for additional inspiration.

    “There is a lot of energy and activity out there in the market, and we’re obviously paying attention to all of it,” Foster said. “But where we’re getting particularly excited is the broad notion of access, and that being something a fan can turn on and off at will.

    “Today’s fan, particularly the younger one, is really looking for experiences, not necessarily tangible items, and what we want to do is take that Spotify model and use that to build a relationship with the fan.”

    MLBAM, meanwhile, has been focused on expanding features within Ballpark such as information around non-game events at MLB ballparks and a concierge-type function that is based in part on artificial intelligence, as well as simplifying the purchase flow for mobile-based tickets.

    “For us, it remains all about utility,” said Josh Frost, MLBAM vice president of product development. “It’s easy to get distracted by a shiny new thing. But for us, it still starts with functionality, and staying true to what a fan would want to make their experience at a game better.”

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  • Cost, concrete pose Wi-Fi hurdles on campus

    Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium is 94 years old, yet it stands as one of the most progressive football venues in the country.

    Stanford Stadium, originally constructed in 1921, is even older by three years and it too is considered advanced, by most measures in college football.

    What those stadiums have that most others don’t is a Wi-Fi signal that runs through the concourses and into the bowl, and in some cases out to the parking lot.

    Nebraska has one of the few college stadiums with a Wi-Fi signal available throughout.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
    Wi-Fi is available on most every college campus, but the networks typically aren’t found inside college stadiums. While Wi-Fi represents an obvious fan enhancement at stadiums, it’s also expensive, running up to $5 million for design and installation, and sometimes more for older facilities.

    Nebraska and Stanford are among roughly eight schools nationally that have Wi-Fi throughout their stadiums. What makes it more remarkable is that they added Wi-Fi in stadiums that are nearly a century old.

    “Older facilities like this one aren’t designed for Wi-Fi, so it costs you more,” said Dan Floyd, director of IT in Nebraska’s athletic department. “You find yourself drilling through a lot of really thick concrete. But our administration decided that Wi-Fi was something we had to have for our fans. We just saw it as an investment and a way to keep fans in their seats, which is becoming more and more of a challenge.”

    Because cost is the single greatest impediment to getting Wi-Fi in football stadiums, it often falls on the athletic department to cover the expense. That can be a challenge, especially at public institutions that might require approval from university administration unless donors cover the cost.

    “People expect to have Wi-Fi available,” Floyd said. “It’s just an expectation, whether you’re in a coffee shop or an NFL venue. But the NFL team is not competing with campus for funding.”

    For schools that are contemplating Wi-Fi in their venues, the benefits of enhancing the fan experience are challenged by the cost.

    For half of the schools that have Wi-Fi — Baylor, Mississippi, TCU and Texas A&M — they were able to install it as part of a major stadium renovation or new construction.

    The rest, like Auburn, Nebraska, Penn State and Stanford, among others, had to go the more difficult route of installing Wi-Fi in older stadiums that weren’t built for the technology.

    Florida is one of those schools considering Wi-Fi. The school had it installed as part of a $65 million renovation to Exactech Arena, its basketball venue, but the Gators still don’t have Wi-Fi throughout Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

    The decision with basketball was easy. The arena is used for several campuswide events, such as trade shows, graduation, concerts and other student programming. In fact, the athletic department didn’t even have to lobby for it. The university administration decided early in the renovation that Wi-Fi would be part of the project, though the cost of the installation was not available.

    The school isn’t prepared just yet to make that commitment to football, largely because of the cost.

    “Wi-Fi is a big topic of discussion across the SEC, especially football,” said Mike Hill, Florida’s executive associate athletic director for external affairs. “It’s an amenity that our customers are accustomed to now, wherever they go.”

    The ability to improve the fan experience is one aspect of that, but there are other, perhaps more important benefits to adding Wi-Fi, including the collection of fan data.

    “There’s as much or more of a business benefit to Wi-Fi than there is to the convenience for fans. Data is a big part of that,” Hill said. “We still have very few football venues with Wi-Fi, but data capture is as much or more of a motivation than anything.”

    At Stanford, Deputy AD Ray Purpur, a 20-plus-year veteran at the school, oversees facilities and capital planning. When Stanford decided to install Wi-Fi five years ago — no records are kept on such things, but the Cardinal is thought to be the first college to have stadiumwide Wi-Fi — it was thought to be the start of a trend.

    But it hasn’t caught on, at least not yet.

    “Wi-Fi is the next frontier, but I think we’re still a couple of years away from this becoming a real trend in the college space,” said Norman Rice at Extreme Networks, a firm that works with sports and non-sports entities to design and install Wi-Fi. “What’s funny is that universities are usually the earliest adopters of technology and just about every college campus has Wi-Fi, except in their football stadium.”

    Schools saw that AT&T and Verizon would upgrade the distributed antenna systems inside their stadiums, most of the time at no cost to the athletic department. A strong DAS, which improves the cell signal, is good enough for some schools, especially when the football stadium is in use only seven days a year, in many cases.

    “It was intimidating for us because there wasn’t another college football stadium with Wi-Fi,” Purpur said.

    With the help of AT&T and an installer, Stanford placed more than 600 Wi-Fi access points around the stadium. The cost of the project was not available.

    Nebraska, whose stadium holds 85,000 versus Stanford’s 50,000, needed close to 900 access points to deliver the Wi-Fi signal, which cost a little more than $5 million to install.

    And with the older stadiums, schools don’t have natural areas to install the access points, so they have to be hidden. The older facilities also don’t have weatherproof network closets that store computer equipment, so new solutions must be invented.

    “It was one of the most complicated, yet fun projects we’ve done,” Purpur said. “There just wasn’t any way for the old system to keep up. Now you walk around the stadium and what you notice is that a lot of people are looking down at their phone. That’s a good thing, I guess.”

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  • Space cases

    Ford Hall at Rogers Place has become a versatile, and visual, gathering place.
    Photo by: ANDY DEVLIN / OILERS ENTERTAINMENT GROUP
    Rogers Place (opened in 2016)

    Area: Ford Hall (opened in 2016)

    Access: Ticketed and non-ticketed guests

    In the planning of the Oilers’ new home, 25,000-square-foot Ford Hall was designed to funnel fans from the newly constructed Ice District development, on the south side of downtown Edmonton, across busy 104th Avenue into Rogers Place. Since the building opened last year, however, the hall has been a versatile, multi-use space that just happens to feature stunning curvilinear glass and a unique piece of indigenous art. In addition to serving as Rogers Place’s grand entrance and an event space for galas and business functions, the Oilers use a portion of the sprawling atrium for the Molson Canadian Hockey House, a pregame hangout where fans can meet with friends before a game to grab a beer and watch highlights from games wrapping up on the East Coast. With the Oilers seemingly poised to make their first playoff appearance in a decade, the team plans to expand Hockey House and even host public viewing parties on big screens.



    Rendering shows the Outfield Experience, which opens this year.
    Photo by: COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK YANKEES
    Yankee Stadium (opened in 2009)

    Area: The Outfield Experience (opens in 2017)

    Access: All ticketed guests

    The Yankees are taking several steps this offseason to cater to 21st-century fans and families, none more significant than their new Outfield Experience. The three social spaces are communal, standing-room-only areas open to all ticketed fans. The left-field and right-field areas — the Frank’s Red Hot Terrace and the Toyota Terrace, respectively — are new, while the Masterpass Batter’s Eye Deck in center field has been expanded. Each area features a full bar and offers to-be-announced food items specific to that space. The Yankees expect the spaces to be selfie hotspots and have equipped them with USB chargers, as well as drink rails and limited seating. The rollout of the outfield experience coincides with the team’s introduction of the Pinstripe Pass, a ticket that offers fan access to the game, along with a beer, without an assigned seat.



    Conceptual rendering of the North End Club
    Photo by: COURTESY OF LITTLE CAESARS ARENA
    Little Caesars Arena (opens in 2017)

    Area: North End Club (opens in 2017)

    Access: Club ticket holders only

    Fans seated in sections 201-205 at the new home of the Detroit Red Wings and Pistons will have access to the arena’s North End Club, a premium space that the team designed with millennials in mind. Situated above the stage for concerts, the two-level space offers prime sight lines for hockey and basketball, as well as room to mill about and mingle. The first level features general chair seating, while the top level features high-top tables and stool seating. Each tier has its own bar offering craft cocktails. While club-access tickets will be a bit pricier than other seats in the 200 level, they are less expensive than seats in the lower bowl, offering an elevated experience priced for young professionals.



    COTA’s tower shines both outside and inside.
    Photo by: KEITH RIZZO / COTA
    Circuit of the Americas
    (opened in 2012)


    Area: Observation Tower (opened in 2012)

    Access: All ticketed guests with additional fee

    As the Circuit of the Americas approaches its fifth anniversary, the U.S. home for Formula One racing still boasts the most magnificent view in motorsports. The Texas track’s 22-story observation tower serves as an eye-catching landmark rising from the center of the facility, and the 20-minute experience at the top is always a highlight of any trip to COTA. The entire facility is visible from the top, including the race below, and on a clear day fans are treated to spectacular views of downtown Austin. For adrenaline junkies, there’s a glass floor toward the front of the platform. Groups have the option of buying a champagne toast atop the tower, which has proved popular among the F1 crowd. Naturally, the pinnacle is a hotspot for photos, and the line for the elevator ride to the top is sometimes hundreds deep.



    The Athletics’ new club draws  inspiration from Shibe Park, where the team played in Philly.
    Photo by: COURTESY OF THE OAKLAND A'S
    Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum (opened in 1966)

    Area: Shibe Park Tavern (opens in 2017)

    Access: All ticketed guests

    In Dave Kaval’s short tenure as president of the A’s — he took over last November — he has made a concerted effort to cater to the common fan, most noticeably holding office hours to listen to feedback on all aspects of the organization. On the facilities side, the team is completely revamping the Coliseum’s West Side Club. Now called the Shibe Park Tavern, the space will pay homage to the club’s former home in Philadelphia. In addition to featuring bricks from the old ballpark and memorabilia from the early days, Shibe Park Tavern will house billiards, shuffleboard and craft beer, along with new TVs. Most importantly, the club still offers a prime first-baseline view, allowing fans to stay connected to the action on the field. Also new for ’17 at the coliseum is the Champions Pavilion, an outdoor area featuring food trucks, big screens and bocce courts.

    — Compiled by Alex Silverman

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