The first thought for fans lucky enough to land a ticket to the next big game is likely, “Score!” And for many, the excitement won’t disappear once they walk through the turnstiles. They’ll be able to follow the pre-game banter on the game-day app, order food from their phone, listen to exclusive audio from the locker room at halftime and replay the game-changing touchdown instantly.
It’s all thanks to a growing movement toward connected stadiums. The goal? Give fans an experience that their home entertainment systems, no matter how high-tech, just can’t match. Behind the scenes, a slew of technicians are building the new service layer to make it possible.
“The evolution is happening because fans are asking for it,” says Michael Lytle, stadium program director at Extreme Networks. “We live in a technology world, where everyone feels the need to be connected and expects the sports and entertainment venues they are frequenting will support their need.”
Service Improves Game Day Experience
In fact, most NFL stadiums and some college football stadiums are well on the way to offering free WiFi networks and other connectivity options to support the smartphones, tablets and — soon — wearable devices that fans bring to the games. The hope is that these new features will help lure fans off the couch.
New game day apps allow fans in the stadium to access NFL RedZone, watch exclusive live video streams and highlight reels, order food from their seats, interact on social media and even check check bathroom wait lines.
“When you are at a NFL football game, the average fan will be in the stadium for three to four hours,” Lytle says. Since the actual playing time of the game is only about 11 minutes, that leaves plenty of time for people to play around on their smartphones.
No Easy Task
Nearly 70,000 Patriots fans can get online at Gillette Stadium, but providing reliable WiFi for such a large crowd is a challenge. As a result, stadiums rely on tech services and support to ensure everything runs smoothly.
“WiFi is like plumbing,” Lytle says. “People just expect it to be there and working.”
The networks installed at stadiums need to be reliable and robust because the equipment is often exposed to rain, wind, snow and extreme sunlight. Extreme Networks is installing networks at NFL stadiums that have overlapping coverage and redundancy so if part of the hardware fails, it won’t cause much user disruption.
In addition to a solid infrastructure, this equipment also requires live support. On game days, onsite stadium network experts make sure that all the systems are working, and “WiFi coaches” help fans get online and access game day app features.
“If the network works and is sufficient, nobody says anything,” Lytle says. “But the second it does not meet your needs, the fans will let you know.”