Sports Facilities

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No Wi-Fi? No Chance of Gaining Fans

15 Dec, 2014

By: Tracey Schelmetic
Large Sports Venues Struggling with Meeting Spectators’ Digital Demands

Times were, you only worried about two things regarding your seat at sports events: how close you were to the action, and how far you were from the rest rooms. Then a new priority muscled its way in: what type of connectivity the stadium had.

No signal? A weak one? Might as well  be a losing game.

While large-scale sports events were once a place for attendees to witness a game, increasingly, sports fans and attendees of other events expect to be able to share their experiences in real-time with friends, largely via social media. Whether the average sports venue is equipped to handle today’s expectations of wireless connectivity is another story entirely. In most cases, they simply aren’t. The digital demands of tens of thousands of fans quickly overwhelm the existing infrastructure.

For younger fans in particular, a single Tweet or Facebook post after an event isn’t enough. They expect to be able to live-Tweet the event, take selfies and share photos and videos throughout the game (or concert). Amateur or “citizen journalists” may even be attempting to live Webcast from events. According to a recent article in the Tampa Tribune, many fans are finding themselves disappointed.

“The wireless networks at many venues weren’t made to handle the hurricane of high-resolution photos and gigabyte-sucking videos now typical at even midsized concerts,” wrote the Tribune’s Keith Morelli. “That has left plenty of concert-goers disappointed that their friends weren’t able to vicariously share in their happiness -- or at least be jealous -- in real time.”

Some large event venues are turning to temporary solutions like portable wi-fi systems – mini cell phone towers and nodes – to boost the signal so fans aren’t met with slow traffic.

“They [event attendees] want it to work like at home and at the grocery store,” Eddie Hales, VP of sales and business development for SignalShare, told the Tampa Tribune. “They have the expectation that it should always work where ever they go. But in a stadium with 20,000, 30,000, 40,000 people in the same spot, it might not work. That’s where we come in to provide alternatives or ways to augment the system in place.”

Installing excess permanent infrastructure near these venues is not only expensive, but it’s unnecessary when large amounts of bandwidth are needed only occasionally. SignalShare has been responsible for building temporary wireless networks at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York and installed new WiFi for the Jacksonville Jaguars’ EverBank Field. Networking giant Cisco has outfitted many sports venues with wireless infrastructure that can be scaled up. It’s necessary for many venues. Increasingly, fans become indignant when they can’t share the event live.

“Spotty service in a rural area is one thing, but when you pay $300 for that seat in the third row, it’s frustrating to see your phone reduced to a plodding status bar or a spinning progress wheel,” wrote John Jurgensen for the Wall Street Journal recently. “Solving the problem is a priority for venue owners and event organizers, who have been forced to acknowledge fans’ assumption that access to a robust and reliable network is baked into the price of admission.”

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