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Apr 10, 2014 11:33 AM, By Tim Kridel

Supporting Stadium BYOD

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For many AV integrators, stadiums and arenas are familiar territory. If that’s you, expect to see a lot more Wi-Fi on those job sites—both as an enabler for AV applications and a potential new professional services offering for your company.

The Sports and Entertainment Alliance in Technology (SEAT) Mobile Sports Report recently surveyed more than 50 managers at arenas and other sports facilities to see how they’re using technologies such as cellular and digital signage. One-third said they currently provide Wi-Fi for fans in all seating areas. Sound & Video Contractor checked with some franchises and venue owners and found there’s good reason to believe the other two-thirds will follow suit.

“Our CEO has publicly said that he thinks the most important thing facing sports franchises in the next several years is Wi-Fi and connectivity for the fans,” says Jack Elkins, business innovations manager for the Orlando Magic, which recently added Wi-Fi throughout Amway Center.

For the Magic and other teams, Wi-Fi’s business case often centers on delivering game-related content that enhances the fan experience.

“Fans want an immersive experience, whether they are viewing at the stadium or at home,” says Chuck Lukaszewski, Aruba Networks’ senior director of engineering. “The availability—or not—of this impacts where they will watch the game.”

In some cases, the wireless LAN (WLAN) also supports internal applications such as backhaul for AV gear and point-of-sale (POS) terminals.

“While we certainly are using Wi-Fi for fan connectivity and for developing the fan experience, we also run several systems within the stadium off of Wi-Fi, starting with ticket scanners and some POS,” says Chris Wyche, general manager of Sporting Park, home to Kansas City’s Major League Soccer team.

Experience Matters

Why the uptick in sports WLANs? One major reason is that the cost of Wi-Fi gear has plummeted over the past two years. Another reason is those products have become more sophisticated, such as being able to blanket a cavernous area or stadium. “When we opened our new building in 2010, the technology didn’t exist to make it financially feasible to put in Wi-Fi for the entire bowl,” Elkins says.

Then came products such as Cisco Connected Stadium Wi-Fi, which is a turnkey bundle of hardware, software, and professional services. Today, sports Wi-Fi is a booming market, which means plenty of companies are vying for business. But many of them are parachuting in with little or no experience with projects of this scale.

“We had great contractors when we upgraded,” Elkins says. “With a lot of contractors trying to break in, it can be tricky making sure you understand who can deliver and who can’t.”

Sports franchises and venue owners aren’t the only ones grappling with that challenge. So are AV integrators looking for partners to expand into sports Wi-Fi rather than taking on the cost, risk, and lead time of building their own team. And even when an integrator has no relationship with the company behind a facility’s WLAN, it still can run into challenges. One example is troubleshooting problems when signage and surveillance cameras have to piggyback on a poorly engineered WLAN.

Extensive experience is one thing that AV integrators, franchises, and facility owners all need to look for.

“It is important to research the potential partner to see if they are in other stadiums and have been successful,” says Lori Glasser-Seinera, American Airlines Center vice president of corporate sponsorship. An integrator should also set up a test demo for the stadium prior to commitment. There are lots of pieces to the puzzle when bringing in an integrator and making sure it works in conjunction with everything else in the venue.

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