Take Me Out to the Ballgame — But Only if There’s a Wireless Connection
Super Bowl XLVIII was played in 2014 in front of more than 82,000 fans who had access to a free wireless connection. MetLife Stadium offered 800 cellular antennas, 850 free Wi-Fi access points and four times the bandwidth available to fans during the 2013 Super Bowl in New Orleans.
Before the game started, however, MetLife Stadium personnel committed a major security gaffe: During a feature in which they gave TV networks a live peek into their security headquarters, the stadium’s internal Wi-Fi login credentials inadvertently appeared on national television. ZDNet reported that the image spread almost instantly through the blogosphere and on Twitter, demonstrating the challenge of balancing open wireless access with strong security protocols.
Wireless Connection: Opportunities and Challenges
Content shared from within a stadium is largely visual in nature, and high-res images and video gobble up a lot of wireless capacity. In addition to sharing content from the game, many fans consume content by watching other games in progress or checking their fantasy sports stats.
To avoid paying for data overages and using up their data allowances, fans look for free wireless connection capability. Sports venues that don’t provide connectivity lose out on free publicity through social media posts and don’t provide the integrated experience fans have come to expect at the game.
Stadiums also benefit from connected fans by gathering marketing insights through wireless analytics. For instance, analyses tell stadiums how many fans utilized the wireless connection, how well it performed, which devices fans used and which online resources they accessed most often. Using that information, stadiums can drop timely offers, such as a free soda for fans tweeting with a certain hashtag during halftime. At the same time, fans probably don’t realize how much data stadium owners collect and likely don’t appreciate how much privacy they exchange for limitless public Wi-Fi.
Thanks to the NFL Sideline Viewing System (SVS) program, coaches can now use tablets on the sidelines, making real-time notes to revisit during the game or in the locker room. To prevent the home team from tampering with the opposing team’s Wi-Fi, the NFL runs a separate wireless connection for the SVS program. As a result, the NFL’s LAN competes with the stadium’s fan Wi-Fi for a limited amount of spectrum. Complicating matters further, the available spectrum is managed by two separate IT teams.
Balancing Service and Security
It’s not easy to keep Wi-Fi both convenient and secure. Here are just a few things stadium owners must do:
- Invest in infrastructure. In addition to providing the right number of access points, they must set up enough controllers to handle increased connectivity. Also, install sufficient bandwidth circuitry to handle maximum traffic loads plus some extra for redundancy and failover. At every stadium, IT should reserve a wireless channel for sideline operations, ensuring that coaches don’t have to compete with fans to maintain a good wireless connection.
- Ask for value-added services. The best providers do more than just install antennas and cabling; they also deliver add-ons that stadiums can use to recoup their investment, such as analytics capabilities.
- Provide technical support. In some stadiums, the company installing the wireless connection points provides tech support during the game. At M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, for example, the Ravens hire Wi-Fi coaches to walk around the stadium helping fans with connection challenges.
- Make fans feel secure. In addition to taking their own security precautions — stadiums should educate fans about public Wi-Fi security risks. Additionally, they should make it clear that they’re collecting data from fans who use their networks. Stadiums should also leverage CCTV and physical security to identify intruders who install rogue access points. They must also frequently change credentials for internal users such as staff and press to protect the network from unauthorized access.
The Stadium of the Future
Stadiums that don’t invest in robust wireless connection architecture aren’t providing the best possible experience for the fans who watch the games. Upgrading is a big investment, but it’s an investment that keeps sports venues competitive over the long term.
Image Source: Flickr