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Volume 22 No. 27
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Florida making most of Wi-Fi with mobile push

A new app will help the school gather more data.
Photo: getty images

The game-day experience for University of Florida football games is about to change dramatically.

The Gators took the first step toward reimagining game day at The Swamp last year when they installed Wi-Fi throughout Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. This season, Florida will go to greater lengths to take advantage of the Wi-Fi by introducing a new game-day app, distributing student tickets through mobile and eliminating the print-at-home option for tickets as it moves to an almost completely mobile system.

Perhaps as soon as 2020, Griffin Stadium could become a cashless venue, such as Tropicana Field in Tampa and Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Florida is hardly the only school investing in mobile ticketing for fans and students. Wi-Fi, however, provides the Gators with the ability to ramp up new initiatives like a game-day app much quicker because of the reliable connectivity, officials said.

“A big part of this is going where our society is going,” Florida Athletic Director Scott Stricklin said. “If we don’t update our stadiums, we’re going to look out of touch. We’ve got to go where people’s habits are headed, and having that connectivity provides us with a lot more opportunities.”

The transformation of Florida’s game day to a mobile experience will become more visible this season, but the Gators have been working quietly for more than three years to get to this point. 

Florida spent $6 million to have Extreme Networks install Wi-Fi last year and added three new staff members since 2016 to increase the Gators’ competency on mobile ticketing, data analytics and revenue generation.

Stricklin said it is vital to meet the fans’ needs where they live — on their phone — and that’s what prompted the creation of a new mobile app. Through the game-day app, tickets, concessions, apparel, and practically every action or item that is essential for the fan on game day will be accessible.

The Gators and their technology partner on the yet-to-be-named app, VenueNext, hope to have it ready by Aug. 1. It will become the hub for fan activity, whether it’s upgrading a seat or ordering a bottle of water. VenueNext has worked on similar projects for the Minnesota Vikings, San Francisco 49ers and Orlando Magic. Fans also will be able to access their Ticketmaster accounts through the app.

“The goal is to move as many people as possible through the app,” said Doug Sutherland, the Gators’ associate AD for ticketing. Florida had explored mobile ticketing for students in the past, but the lack of reliable connectivity worried officials before Wi-Fi was installed.

A fan will be asked for their email address when they connect to the stadium’s Wi-Fi, and that fan’s information will be added to the Gators’ database. Collecting that information fits well in Florida’s quest to expand its database. 

In the last three years, Florida’s contacts have grown from 50,000 names to its current list of 350,000. The Gators recently brought on SSB, a data analytics firm with a deep client list in colleges, to help the school find more uses for its data.

Before revamping its approach to data collection, 91,000 orange-and-blue-clad fans could fill Griffin Stadium, but the school’s athletic department figured that it knew only 40,000 of them.