Professional sports venues are facing a lot of competition today -- primarily from the fan's home. Why spend big bucks and fight the crowds and traffic to see a game in a stadium when a living room or "man cave" equipped with a high-definition TV can provide a better experience, or at least a more comfortable one?
One way of keeping fans coming to stadiums is Wi-Fi and the wide range of services it can provide. The New England Patriots organization is taking an aggressive approach to using Wi-Fi in the football team's Gillette Stadium home playing field to enhance the fan experience.
The New England Patriots 2012 mobile application gives fans at the stadium access to video, team and player statistics, and other exclusive content, as well as the ability to watch the NFL's Red Zone channel.
Previously those services were available only to fans sitting in the premium Putnam Club seats. But, this season the Patriots organization began offering the services through the general New England Patriots 2012 application to all 70,000 attendees following a massive expansion of the stadium's Wi-Fi system.
Fans in the premium seats currently have access to additional content, including more camera angles and more replays, through the Patriots Game Day mobile application. But in the 2013-2014 season those services will be expanded to the entire stadium as well, said Jonathan Kraft, president of The Kraft Group that owns the Patriots football team and Gillette Stadium.
Kraft noted that NFL stadiums are competing with HD televisions that provide an "amazing" experience. "If we want people to come to our stadiums and find it worth the money, we have to figure out how we give an experience that's different from the experience at home," he said, speaking at a press event at Gillette stadium earlier this week.
Coming in the next year will be an app that attendees use to place food and beverage orders and, based on their seat location, be directed to the right concession stand when the order is ready -- a move expected to greatly shorten waiting lines. And, attendees can even use their phone to pay for the order. And, another app will show expected wait times at the stadium bathrooms.
"We're going to have some apps next year ... that will really blow people away," Kraft said.
NEXT: Enterasys Wi-Fi Network Handles Content Streaming To Thousands Of FansComing in the future will be apps for streaming audio -- including from "miked-up" players on the field and coach-to-quarterback communications -- and video from the locker room at half time, he said.
"I really believe that if we don't create these applications I've described, live venue viewing at this scale is really going to be put at risk unless you find a way to give [fans] everything [they] get at home and then make it even more engaging and special and unique," Patriot's Kraft said. He added that he would be "shocked" if every NFL stadium didn't have similar Wi-Fi capabilities within 36 months.
All this is made possible by a Wi-Fi network installed last summer by Enterasys Networks, which Kraft said the stadium hired after evaluating other "very big brand-name" networking companies that were reluctant to guarantee the success of the project.
"The system worked flawlessly from the day we installed it," Kraft said.
Fred Kirsch, content vice president for the New England Patriots, said the network consists of 360 access points around the stadium with almost as many antennas, supported by 34 intermediate delivery frames. The network is PCI-compliant.
The Patriots beat the Houston Texans on Jan. 13 in a game that determined who advanced to the AFC championship game this weekend. There were 16,000 unique Wi-Fi users at Gillette Stadium that day, Kirsch said, with 10,000 concurrent users at any one time. They downloaded a total of 350 gigabytes of data, despite a 756k per-attendee limit, "and we didn't even come close to capacity," he said.
Another interesting statistic: 70 percent of those accessing the Wi-Fi were using iOS-based iPads or iPhones, he said.
PUBLISHED JAN. 18, 2013