Venue Technology Summit: Venues Increasingly Deliver Connectivity To Keep Fans Coming Back

Spotty and unreliable WiFi and cellular coverage at a sports venue may have been acceptable three years ago, but the growth in adoption of smartphones and tablets has made proper connectivity via DAS networks and WiFi a necessity. The question now is how much capacity is needed today and how do you scale tomorrow?

“DAS and WiFi is a no-brainer,” says Chip Foley, VP of technology, Forest City Ratner Companies. “And bandwidth is cheap enough that you can allow for things like people in the press booth being able to use a Slingbox and watch another game.”

The Barclays Center typifies the new approach to connectivity.

First, there is an app not only for the Brooklyn Nets but also for the Barclays Center itself. Both apps offer venue information and video and make it easier than ever for fans to be brought into a controlled app environment. And the connectivity includes a free public high-density WiFi network that is password-free, moving the burden of traffic off the cellular networks. Both Cisco and High Point Solutions work closely with the Barclays team to ensure that proper levels of connectivity are available to fans.

“We have room for expansion as we have the equipment located in a 2,000-sq.-ft. space that is located across the street and connected via fiber,” says Foley. “One advantage of that is that the cellular carriers have to service the equipment and we are not constantly having to give them access to the Barclays Center.”

The connectivity challenge also extends beyond the network. According to Tekserve CTO Aaron Freimark, tablets are increasingly being used as the center point of kiosks in venues and other public spaces. At LaGuardia Airport, for example, a number of tablets installed by Tekserve in the Delta terminal allow those who don’t have a device to check on weather, ticketing changes, and more.

“You can take those devices and configure them and lock them down so that they can become more of a public device,” he says. “And tablets are now more than half of all computer sales, so how do you get content you are creating into the screens in front of fans?”

Gene Arantowicz, senior director/partner, Transformational GTM Strategy, Sports and Entertainment Solutions Group, Cisco Systems, notes that Cisco’s Stadium Vision system is one option for creating the connected environment. One thing to keep in mind to prevent overbuilding is that not everyone in the venue is going to be on the network at the same time, but you do want to make sure that access is consistent and reliable. That’s where Stadium Vision comes in.

“It delivers digital signage to TV screens, live video to screens in the pocket, and needs only one stream in the network that the mobile devices tap into,” he explains. “It’s similar in concept to over-the-air broadcasting, and, in Barclays, for example, it allows us to deliver multiple signals.”

Increasingly that means an app or a Website that translates easily onto mobile devices without changing the core experience. Robert Pace, chief business officer for OneTwoSee, a creator of mobile apps, says that everyone from rightsholders to venue owners and to team owners understands the power of digital platforms as a place to engage fans.

“They want to bring the best possible fan experience to their customers and audiences,” he says. “That also means having an app that has the same look, feel, and brand as the app.”

Arantowicz adds that the key is getting fans to use that app so that it can be monetized and that means making sure that access to WiFi is free: “If you make it easy and give the power to the people, they will use it.”

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