At Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, home of the Indiana Pacers and Indiana Fever, and which hosted first and second round games of last year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament, fans instantly took to their smartphones to engage and relay exciting action to friends. They could spread the news because the arena provides advanced cellular and wireless connectivity.

Savvy operators of prominent sports venues recognize that sharing moments in real-time on social media has become an integral part of the overall fan experience. Indeed, enhancing the in-game experience proves increasingly essential to attracting fans to games. This, in turn, requires that venues meet fans’ ever-expanding mobile demands with a high-performance cellular and wireless broadband network that can support new mobile applications as they continue to be rolled out. 

A growing number of venues are doing just that — enabling fans to scan their tickets, order food and beverages, download a 360-degree stadium video or even receive real-time updates about lengths of bathroom lines as well as traffic conditions after the game. The potential payoffs are substantial. A study by Oracle Hospitality found that fans would spend an extra $20 if wait times at concession stands were halved.

Tormod Larsen
CTO, ExteNet Systems

It is no wonder the connected stadium is so critical today, and venue owners are recognizing the power of state-of-the-art wireless technology — from monetizable features to the underlying analytics. Owners and operators who have deployed wireless networks point to three major considerations when making such investments.

  1. Invest in the right network infrastructure, involve the right partner from the start and think long term.

    When Marlins Park, home of the Miami Marlins, opened in 2012, it sported a retractable roof and was certified as the “greenest” stadium from an environmental standpoint. Its owners kept technology in mind by installing a neutral-host distributed antenna systems (DAS) network, complemented by a WiFi network (Marlins Network) at the state-of-the-art venue.

    Marlins Park’s DAS network supports all of the major U.S. wireless carriers and the park’s dedicated network allows them to keep pace with growing mobile data usage, collect relevant user information and eliminate any reliance on legacy telecom infrastructure outside the venue (i.e. cell towers).

  2. Grasp how to manage costs and maximize their return on investment.

    Network infrastructure may not be inexpensive, but ultimately it does help better serve the bottom line. Owners must consider the network as a strategic resource and asset by working with its network infrastructure partner to determine how the network elements are architected in the most economically scalable manner to ensure the highest performance for all the fans.

    Today, new venues are employing robust wireless networks, coupled with lightning-fast broadband infrastructure, to connect and support any number of venue-based services and applications. They include WiFi, broadcast video, digital displays/signage, IP televisions, security cameras and venue lights along with traditional Ethernet internet services, with flexible bandwidth to grow with demand. Owners can work with network infrastructure partners to manage costs, but more importantly they should work to maximize their ROI by thinking ahead to future advances and the monetizable features expected for their networks.

  3. Master how to drive fan engagement and create an immersive experience that differs from watching games or entertainment on a TV screen at home.

    The challenge today is to get fans up from their couch, where they can easily enjoy a sports event, and into the venue for a unique and personal experience that can’t be replicated elsewhere. Sports economists contend that stadiums are leaving money on the table by not monetizing their venue’s possible revenue streams to the fullest. Those venues that host games as well as concerts and other events are generating more revenue.

    Fans today are demanding personalized experiences and venue operators are creating more immersive and differentiated experiences to gain an advantage over rivals, as well as the couch. Increasingly, ballparks, arenas and stadiums are seeking to develop their own character and vibe.

    The NFL and its teams have grasped the importance of developing fan loyalty. One example is putting radio-frequency identification, or RFID tags, on equipment such as shoulder pads to track and deliver statistics on players’ movements and speed that are posted on stadium screens. Another is at AT&T Stadium, where Cowboys fans can enjoy a fantasy football lounge at field level. The lounge offers enhanced game-day experiences that bring fans closer to the action, including the ability to cheer and even high-five NFL players as they charge through the tunnel to take the field.

To succeed today, all major sports venues owners and operators agree that they must keep pace with new technology. Knowing this, the owners of the multi-purpose Barclays Center, home of the New York Islanders and Brooklyn Nets, made sure that on Day 1, its neutral-host DAS network could provide high-bandwidth capacity and reliable wireless coverage. The arena also was among the first to enable 4G LTE connectivity—with a network that fit comfortably and unobtrusively to the arena’s unique design. It’s no wonder that Barclays Center is regarded as one of the most innovative and technologically advanced venues in sports.

To have an innovative and technologically advanced venue like the Barclays Center, venue owners and operators must be mindful of the fact that the wireless industry evolves rapidly. Venues must understand what’s happening in the industry and anticipate how new technologies (ex: 5G) will impact the connected stadium of tomorrow. This will allow them to surpass fan expectations with an even more compelling in-game experience.

Tormod Larsen is the Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at ExteNet Systems, Inc., a leading provider of Distributed Network Systems (DNS) enabling advanced cellular and wireless connectivity.