Cisco Puts Sporting Kansas City Stadium on Par With the Big Boys

As the quality of the living-room experience continues to escalate, sports venues must work harder than ever to pry fans off their couches and pull them through the ticket gate. In that vein, MLS’s Sporting Kansas City new $200 million soccer-specific facility deploys Cisco’s StadiumVision and Connected Stadium high-density WiFi, technologies previously reserved only for the most high-profile venues, like Cowboys Stadium and New Meadowlands Stadium.

“We want LiveStrong Sporting Park to be a living lab for technology,” says Sporting Kansas City CEO Robb Heineman. “We believe the real growth opportunity in our sport is at that 18-30 demographic, the people that are walking around with smartphones and want to have a more customized experience. We want to make sure that those fans can connect with our building.”

Not Quite Wembley But Close
Cisco’s Sports and Entertainment Solutions Group built out the core network that drives StadiumVision and Connected Stadium WiFi at LiveStrong Sporting Park, which debuted last Thursday with the team’s home opener. The venue is the first soccer-specific venue in the U.S. to install StadiumVision and Connected Stadium WiFi. Earlier this year, Wembley Stadium in London became the first soccer venue to deploy this type of Cisco infrastructure.

The brand-new stadium, which is equipped to handle 18,467 people for soccer and 25,000 for concerts, features more than 300 HDTVs, all fed by the StadiumVision network.

In addition, nearly 196 wireless routers create a high-density WiFi network that delivers high-speed wireless Internet access to fans and staff throughout the stadium.

To handle the enormous volume of HD video and WiFi traffic generated on game day, Sporting Park is also using Cisco Nexus 7000 series switches and the Cisco Unified Computing System (becoming the first MLS club to do so).

Highlights, Stats, and Menus
StadiumVision delivers live and recorded video to the 300-plus HD displays throughout LiveStrong, allowing the team to instantaneously push specific content to specific screens anywhere in the venue. In addition to providing HD game video, highlights, multiple angles, stats, and out-of-town scores to fans, the system allows Sporting Kansas City to easily customize digital menu boards and provides targeted advertising opportunities for sponsors.

“Many venues have video capabilities that are worse than what we have in our own homes,” says David Holland, GM/SVP of Sports and Entertainment Solutions Group at Cisco. “The idea here is bring the level of that experience up through StadiumVision so that, when you attach the video immersion with 18,000 screaming fans, you create an environment that can’t be matched.”

The presence of StadiumVision is most visible in the venue’s executive suites, where attendees can view a variety of isolated angles from the game on various displays in the suite. The suite holder can control these video feeds and the content viewed on the screens via the SuiteVision iPad application.

The team hopes to eventually develop the iPad app, which runs on the stadium’s WiFi network, to include such functionalities as buying merchandise, placing food orders, and signing up for membership in various Sporting Kansas City clubs.

“[The iPad app] helps my suite patrons to more than just control TVs; it controls their entire [game-day] experience,” says Asim Pasha, CIO/chief architect, Sporting Kansas City. “[In addition], we now have the ability to not only have the real-time game feeds showing up on screens but also to push sponsor-driven content directly to fans. That creates new revenue streams that simply did not exist before. “

High-Density WiFi Connects Fans
The proliferation of mobile devices at sports venues has clogged cellular networks, essentially creating a sprawling dead spot that leaves thousands of fans unable to access the Internet or even make simple phone calls.

Connected Stadium WiFi promises to offload data traffic from these crowded cell networks, allowing fans to connect to the stadium’s WiFi network for free. This keeps the cellular networks free for phone calls and text messages, while letting attendees watch video replays and access in-venue apps from their seats. The WiFi network will also power the park’s point-of-sale infrastructure for ticket sales.

According to Holland, Sporting Park’s WiFi network is driven by nearly 200 newly designed wireless routers installed at just a handful of venues in the world.

“Every seat in the venue is covered to the max,” says Pasha. “If I didn’t have that infrastructure in place [from Cisco], I don’t think I could even think about venturing into some of the spaces that we are looking at now.”

Apps in the Stands
Sporting Kansas City plans to develop several in-stadium apps that fans can access via the WiFi network. The first of these apps, Sporting Explore, is already available for download. It asks fans questions in real time — such as who will score the next goal or get the next red card — and the fan who answers correctly first gains affinity points that can be used for in-stadium merchandise purchases. Winners are also displayed on the stadium’s TVs and video boards.

“We are planning four or five new apps in the next three months, using some of the new technologies that [Cisco] is working with us on,” says Pasha. “We think this can go on to become a much, much bigger platform.”