News

Wi-Fi’s next frontier

Mar 27th 2017

Why Atlanta, Detroit will extend connectivity to mixed-use projects

Connectivity in sports has grown rapidly over the past five years, and the newest big league venues all feature robust Wi-Fi and distributed antenna systems to meet demand from users of mobile devices.

Now teams are setting their wireless sights beyond the walls of stadiums and arenas, toward the mixed-use projects that are increasingly being built around them.

They’re expanding those services to the retail and entertainment districts to keep both fans attending the games and other visitors connected at all times in these sports-driven neighborhoods. In doing so, teams can now track customer behavior and capture data beyond their facilities and ultimately produce more opportunities to generate revenue.

As more teams build these “live, work and play” communities around sports venues, mapping wireless is not just about connecting fans in arenas and stadiums anymore, said Eric McLoughlin, director of marketing and product management for Comcast. Two years ago, Comcast signed a
multiyear technology and real estate deal with the Atlanta Braves for their new ballpark and mixed-use project.

“Sports is the anchor, but the real value is being able to bring in small and large businesses and residential, and translate that into a service that extends past the stadium to the mixed-use development,” McLoughlin said.

The model is still evolving, but the whole purpose behind it is to get smartphone users — whose numbers are projected to surpass 250 million over the next three years — connected with the team’s brand earlier in the day, said Bob Jordan, senior vice president of team and venue
services for Van Wagner Sports and Entertainment and a tech consultant for sports and mixed-use projects.

The Atlanta Braves and Detroit Red Wings, both Van Wagner clients on the tech side, are the first teams to develop this new, expanded platform, Jordan said. Both teams will open new facilities this year equipped with wireless infrastructure that extends Wi-Fi coverage beyond their buildings to the retail, entertainment, office and residential units making up the mixed-use components in their respective markets.

They’re not alone. Elsewhere, the new NFL stadium in Los Angeles opening in 2019, the Texas Rangers’ new ballpark (2020) and the Tampa Bay Lightning’s waterfront development next to Amalie Arena all plan to package mixed-use projects under their control with wireless technology
at their venues, sources said.


Comcast’s Xfinity brand is visible beyond SunTrust Park’s outfield wall. Out of the spotlight, Comcast is ensuring connectivity in the areas around the ballpark. Photo by: COMCAST

Braves executives said they’re looking at ways to generate new sponsorship dollars outside SunTrust Park, their new stadium, tied to the experience of visitors to The Battery Atlanta, the
1.5-million-square-foot mixed-use project next door.

They’re exploring new content delivered through the team’s mobile application, including the use of augmented reality, surrounding events in The Battery on non-game days, plus advertising that more closely relates to the retail and restaurant visitors of the development.




For example, points of interest around The Battery may “come alive” with information and additional content through embedded functionality in the mobile app, said Derek Schiller, president of business for the Braves, the ballpark and the mixed-use project.

“There’s the potential for revenue streams that [teams] have never had before,” Jordan said. “When you look at all the circulation areas, parking garages, plazas and other destinations, you’re now able to create extensions of your facility on game days and non-game days. You’re now able to have that conversation with your fans before they even get into the building.”

Just the basics

Wasserman and Navigate Research asked fans about tech enhancements they would like to see. The answers reflect a preference for the simple things in the fan experience.

None – just want to see the game 49%
Large HD video screen 37%
Ability to connect to Wi-Fi  21%
Ordering food and beverage from seat  16%
In-game seat upgrades  13%
Ability to see who will sit next to me  8%
Interaction with my fantasy team  6%
Seeing social media posts on screen 6%

Source: “The Fan Experience Playbook,” Wasserman and Navigate Research


Depending on the vendor, the cost to install wireless infrastructure at arenas ranges from $3 million to $5 million, and for stadiums the expense goes up to $5 million to $7 million, said Chip Foley, an
executive with AmpThink, a company that designs and builds the equipment. From there, Jordan said it’s difficult to pinpoint the additional costs for installing Wi-Fi access points in the mixed-use
piece outside the venue because it’s largely driven by density and the area of coverage required to connect with the facility.

“There is no perfect science to it,” he said, referring to determining the total cost of linking Wi-Fi systems between sports facilities and mixed-use.

In Atlanta, Comcast Business, the enterprise division of Comcast Corp., pays the freight as part of signing a landmark sponsorship with the Braves that includes Comcast building its new Southeast headquarters at The Battery. Five to seven years after supplying Levi’s Stadium with state-of-the-art connectivity, Comcast is outfitting its first mixed-use project tied to a sports facility, company officials said.

As a founding partner at SunTrust Park, the Braves’ 41,500-seat facility opening March 30, Comcast provides video, voice and high-speed internet services at both the stadium and The Battery Atlanta.

The Braves’ network, powered by two 100-gigabit Ethernet lines, will deliver internet speeds almost three times faster than the 49ers’ 40-gigabit system. The 1,350 total Wi-Fi access points across the
ballpark and The Battery, installed by Cisco Sports and Entertainment, include 700 access points in the mixed-use development.

Turnkey Sports Poll

The following are results of the Turnkey Sports Poll taken in January. The survey covered more than 2,000 senior-level sports industry executives spanning professional and college sports.

As a fan, how important to you is having a reliable Wi-Fi or cell-phone connectivity at live sporting events?

A factor with moderate importance to my experience  56%
Not a very important factor  35%
One of the most important factors for my experience 9%
Not sure / no response  0%

When attending live entertainment events during the last 12 months, how frequently have you used the official venue/team app?

Every time  2%
Most of the time   14%
Sometimes   26%
Rarely    36%
Never     21%
N/A         1%
Not sure/ no response  0%


Which of the following mobile app features provides the most value to fans attending a live event?

Mobile ticketing     25%
General venue maps, directions and/or information    18%
In-seat ordering of food/merchandise  16%
Instant replays/video content     13%
Event stats access 12%
Ability to locate shortest restroom or vendor line   5%
Seat upgrade opportunities 2%
Not sure / no response 9%

Source: Turnkey Sports & Entertainment in conjunction with SportsBusiness Journal. Turnkey Intelligence specializes in research, measurement and lead generation for brands and properties. Visit www.turnkeyse.com.


Those access points help connect mobile users to the multiple restaurants, retail shops and entertainment venues. Separately, as part of their rental agreements, residents living in The Battery’s 550 apartments become subscribers to Comcast’s Xfinity X1-branded internet and cable television.

Comcast won’t share its subscribers’ data with the Braves, company officials said. In spaces such as the plaza outside SunTrust Park, the team has access to consumer data through the shared public Wi-Fi network, Jordan said.

Overall, the Braves’ goal is to develop a seamless experience for baseball fans attending games at SunTrust Park and hanging out at The Battery, as well as other consumers shopping, eating, drinking and living there, team officials said. To make it happen, the team worked with MLB Advanced Media to develop technology that incorporates all aspects of the ballpark and The Battery into one mobile application. It’s the first time non-ballpark content appears in a mobile app under
MLB’s technology group, according to Greg Gatti, the Braves’ senior director of information technology.

So for example, a fan sitting in the ballpark in the seventh inning who starts getting hungry can tap the mobile application to get a list of The Battery’s restaurants and make a dinner reservation for after the game, said Greg Mize, the Braves’ director of digital.

Gatti said, “The infrastructure was designed to be able to do that, because we want to have a single fan experience, whether you’re at The Battery or the ballpark. Your limitations will be based on what your [mobile device] can actually deliver right now.”

In Detroit, the same tech model applies to Little Caesars Arena, which will open in September as the new home of the Red Wings and the Pistons.

The arena anchors a mixed-use development called The District Detroit, covering 55 blocks as part of the redevelopment of the city’s downtown. All five neighborhoods in the District — including Woodward Square where the arena is situated — will be covered by the arena’s wireless
network.

“We’re following that same methodology, where Pistons and Red Wings fans are connected to our infrastructure a mile away from the facility, before they ever get to a game or other event,” Jordan said.


Little Caesars Arena’s proximity to Ford Field and Comerica Park make it possible to connect the three downtown Detroit venues to one comprehensive network in the future. Photo by: LITTLE CAESARS ARENA

Comcast is part of the Detroit development but not to the extent of its project in Atlanta, Jordan said. Olympia Entertainment has not officially announced its technology providers because not all of those agreements have been signed, company officials said.

The Red Wings will get access to wireless data in public spaces such as the “piazza,” the 31,000-square-foot outdoor plaza on the arena’s west side, said John King, vice president of IT and innovation for Olympia Entertainment, the team’s parent company.

Little Caesars Arena plans to program the piazza with its large video board as a multiuse space that can be active on non-game days. Events might include a Detroit Lions tailgate party — the Lions’ Ford Field is nearby — for up to 5,000 people that could be connected to the arena’s
Wi-Fi network.

Future phases could include linking the arena’s wireless system to the Fox Theatre, and potentially, Comerica Park, given the Detroit Tigers operate their own Wi-Fi network, King said. The Ilitch family owns the Red Wings and Tigers and operates their facilities, and they own the Fox Theatre. All three buildings are within a six-block radius.

“We’re looking at where we can bridge those gaps and looking at what would phase two look like, how do we create a more seamless world, how do we bring the loyalty platforms in play [on mobile devices] that can be used at multiple venues, restaurants, whatever we have to entice fans
and give them something special when we’re down here,” King said.

The proximity of Ford Field makes it possible to connect Detroit’s three downtown sports facilities to one comprehensive network down the line, Jordan said.

“We’re putting the foundation in place that over time … the microcosm of the sports economy in Detroit is going to be a very converged experience,” he said.