Stanford University fell behind in 2017-not in academics, or in athletics (they are consistently ranked #1 in the Learfield Director’s Cup for best overall sports program), but in stadium Wi-Fi performance. In 2011, they were the first FBS stadium to install the technology, and by mid-2017, they were falling behind. The tech was working fine—it’s just that more was being demanded—more video uploading, more selfies, more downloading statistics, etc.
The University of Notre Dame undertook a massive project in 2017. Called “Campus Crossroads”, the $400 million project took a very creative approach to putting in public Wi-Fi in their upgrades—through placing handrails in lower bowl seating areas (required by the Americans for Disability Act), they were able to create 1,096 new Wi-Fi access points inside the stadium. Notre Dame Senior Associate Athletics Director Rob Kelly told Edscoop in 2018, “We didn’t have handrails in the lower bowl (originally), because the construction happened in the 1930s; the handrails helped accomplish distribution of the access points throughout the lower bowl. The connectivity has been one of the top three positive customer feedback items throughout the season.”
Baylor University upped the in-game experience one step further. Add an app to your phone (Baylor In-Game App), and you will be able to see the replay of that touchdown run before it’s up on the Jumbotron. Baylor was the first school to add this personalized replay option for both football and basketball. Other schools with newer facilities are adding more to their in-game apps like wayfinding, social media integration and customization (like adding you to the Kids Club or upgrading your seats on site).
Beacons are installed in thousands of places around stadiums, all feeding information back to the technology team. The opportunities for more immersive experiences are popping up all over the place—check out what the Dallas Cowboys did with augmented reality. The only requirement was to have a Samsung Galaxy S10 5G smartphone—which the Cowboys were happy to loan you. The “Pose with a Pro” augmented reality activation garnered over 50 million social media impressions. As the professional game experience goes, so goes the trickle down to college stadiums and arenas.
2020 is supposed to be the year of 5G. While fast, the 5G signal doesn’t travel far, so technology companies have to install many antennas close together. For example, in cities, 5G antennas are installed on top of streetlights, telephone poles, and other fixed structures. Stadiums are gradually installing 5G, but fans should not expect the same rich experience at all points in the stadium just yet.
Verizon has spent a fair amount on advertising their rollout of 5G networks (and encouraged you to upgrade to 5G capable phones). But Arstechnica’s Jon Brodkin, a tech writer who covers the FCC, broadband and wireless technology, performed studies in both NFL stadiums and NBA arenas and found that 5G cellular service was limited at best. Brodkin wrote “Verizon’s early 5G rollout relies heavily on millimeter-wave signals that don’t travel far and are easily blocked by walls and other obstacles.” The last time I visited an NBA arena, there were a ton of walls and obstacles.
It’s a daunting, unnoticed part of the arms race in college sports. A great game day experience that keeps people in their seats longer must include high speed cellular or broadband technology. It’s a very expensive proposition for an older facility (which many college stadiums and/or arenas are) and must be a part of the planning for any athletic facility, practice or game. Matthew Almand, the Texas A&M network architect in charge of the football stadium’s deployment said to EdTech Magazine. “People, especially millennials, have this desire/requirement to be always connected [to the internet] and we find that we’ve really been able to provide that while they’re at the game. It’s all about having a good experience and sharing that with all your friends.”[“source=forbes”]