Extreme Networks, Partners See Big Opportunities In Pro Sports Vertical

Professional sports organizations like the National Football League (NFL) are turning to technology more than ever to transform and improve the in-stadium experience for their fans. And, as they do, Extreme Networks and its Wi-Fi-savvy partners are finding major opportunities in the professional sports vertical.

After bolstering its wireless portfolio through its $180 million acquisition of Enterasys last year, Extreme in January was named the official Wi-Fi Analytics Provider of the NFL. Today the San Jose, Calif.-based vendor's technology is already in one out of three NFL stadiums across the country, including those belonging to the New England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles, Detroit Lions and the New York Giants and Jets.

Extreme, in some cases, not only provides the basic wireless connectivity for the stadiums, but also its Purview analytics platform, allowing the NFL to monitor fans' mobile activity, application performance and other key metrics during the games.

[Related: Extreme, Enterasys Formalize Joint Partner Program, Expect Big Channel Growth Ahead]

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Technology executives from the NFL and local Boston sports teams said during Extreme's CIO Summit this week at the New England Patriot's Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. that their appetite for in-stadium Wi-Fi and customer analytics is bigger than ever.

One of the reasons for that shift is a recent change in fan expectations, said Jessica Gelman, VP of customer marketing and strategy for Patriots owner The Kraft Sports Group.

The season ticket renewal rate for the Patriots three years ago was the lowest it's been in a decade, Gelman said. One of the reasons for that, Gelman said, was more and more ticket holders opting to watch games at home.

"We saw it coming three years ago," Gelman said. "We obviously are well aware of the comforts of watching [games] from your couch on a huge TV. We knew we needed to do some very big things and this is, of course, where Extreme Networks comes in -- we started testing with them three years ago. That was part of what we were being cognizant of as an organization."

Gelman said Extreme's Wi-Fi services were rolled out in the Patriots' Gillette Stadium in 2012. The venue today also leverages Extreme's Purview analytics platform and a location-based service to help fans, for example, check on wait times for the nearest restrooms. Gelman said the venue is also exploring capabilities for in-seat ordering of concessions via a mobile device.

The Extreme platform is also being used to support the Patriots' Gameday Live app, which gives users access to instant game replays, live field cameras, league scores and other statistics. The efforts have paid off; Gelman said the Patriots are now seeing their highest season ticket renewal rates ever.

Extreme, overall, said it sees a $1 billion opportunity in providing Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi analytics to sports venues. Its partners, meanwhile, also stand to gain big.

NEXT: SignalShare, PCM Talk Sports

Joe Costanzo, CTO and co-founder of SignalShare, a Raleigh, N.C.-based Extreme partner specializing in high-capacity Wi-Fi networks, said SignalShare's business in the professional sports vertical -- which extends beyond the NFL and into the National Hockey League (NHL) and National Basketball Association (NBA), as well -- is "exploding."

"I think it's a little bit about being in the right place at the right time. As we built the business, it's really picked up year after year, but this year has just been incredible," Costanzo said, noting that SignalShare's business with sports teams is on pace to double this year. "I think it's partially because we are coming to expect connectivity at events."

In August, SignalShare and Extreme signed a deal with the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars to equip the Jaguars' stadium with Extreme's Wi-Fi network. In addition, the Jaguars are deploying SignalShare's LiveFi, a platform for pushing targeted, in-browser messaging and advertising to fans' mobile devices.

Costanzo said the LiveFi platform will help the Jaguars monetize their Wi-Fi deployment -- which is powered by a whopping 600 access points -- through sponsorship opportunities.

"You really have to justify this ROI," Costanzo said. "You have to come up with some type of monetization platform that doesn't override the fan engagement feature."

SignalShare is set to announce deals with three more professional sports teams in September and is in "active conversations" with five others, Costanzo said. The company is expanding its sales team to meet demand.

Stephen Moss, president of services at PCM, an El Segundo, Calif.-based national solution provider and Extreme partner, said PCM's business in the professional sports vertical is also taking off. PCM and Extreme announced a new deal in July with the NFL's Tennessee Titans.

"We have several folks that are either completely dedicated or almost dedicated to a [sports or public Wi-Fi] practice," Moss said. "High-density Wi-Fi in stadiums and public venues is something we see as emerging and is still just in the emerging stage right now."

Moss said PCM's business around sports and public venue Wi-Fi is on pace to grow three-fold this year. He said he's noticed an especially strong appetite among these venues for Wi-Fi analytics platforms, like Extreme's Purview.

"Operators and owners, both are looking to better understand those who attend [games] and what the fan profile looks like," Moss said.

What's more, Moss said, more and more sports and public venues are understanding that they need to deploy these high-density, high-performance wireless networks in order to keep pace with today's increasingly connected consumer market.

"We are becoming, quickly, a device-driven world," Moss said.