The Philadelphia Eagles, second place in the NFC Eastern Division coming in to last Sunday's game, lost to the NY Giants 15-7, but fans at Lincoln Financial Field win when it comes to wireless.
Earlier this year, the franchise realized that in the ever changing world of mobile devices, people expect to be connected wherever they go. It doesn’t matter whether they are in a coffee shop with 10 people or in a stadium with tens of thousands.
“We wanted to make sure that fans have the same experience at our stadium as they do in their everyday lives,” said Don Smolenski, President, Philadelphia Eagles in an interview with Mobile Enterprise.
To enable this personal user experience, the franchise installed a new infrastructure at Lincoln Financial Field, just in time for the season opener to ensure connectivity for all the possible devices 67,000+ fans and game day employees might bring.
The stadium has been equipped with the latest high-density Wi-Fi technology from the “Official Wi-Fi Partner of the Philadelphia Eagles.” The IdentiFi solution from Enterasys Networks has the bandwidth to support stadium capacity for connectivity, download and access to multimedia apps.
Five years ago, we would not have had a conversation like this, Smolenski pointed out. There were a lot of people with feature phones and they came to a game — to actually watch a game. There was one distributive antenna in the building then, a second was added along the way to improve cell coverage and then that became inadequate with the explosion of smartphones and tablets. That brought them to this upgrade. “The world is changing,” he said. “We have to change with it.”
In considering a solution, Smolenski said, “We focused on the outcome/results, which, in this case, were the fans. Ownership of the project crossed all aspects of the business because the fans are the lifeblood of the organization. With them in mind, we moved forward.”
The Director of IT oversaw the deployment along with their tech partner Enterasys. Though the franchises run their operations independently, there is collaboration and learning shared across the ecosystem of teams, as well as communication with the NFL. “It’s in the best interest of the League and any team to have a great user experience on game day. We support one another and the League helps facilitate that. It [the NFL] also drives global strategy and partnerships,” according to Smolenski.
The implementation of the of OneFabric Control Center management along with the Wi-Fi solution provides centralized visibility and control over the network, giving the Eagles valuable intelligence to more easily roll out new apps and services to improve the overall experience.
In addition to installing the FreeEAGLESWiFi network, the team has upgraded its mobile app. Smolenski said the new Wi-Fi system will be the highway to provide the content for fans. They worked with YinzCam to develop the Eagles mobile app for iOS, specific Android devices and certain BlackBerries, and launched it in 2011.
At that time, it provided a base level of information — real and fantasy football stats and stadium facts, for example. Over the last year and half, the growth of video and social, and the demand for real-time everything drove the next iteration.
Responsive design supports better navigation. On game day fans can now stream the NFL Red Zone, live tunnel cam and video board. Replays can be watched almost instantaneously. Post- game press conferences can be seen while on the way home and social channels can be reached without leaving the app.
Game Day=Work Day
Has this initiative been a catalyst to other mobile developments? Smolenski said, “It puts us in a good place to be prepared for the future. As the NFL continues to develop its strategy in the mobile space and the use of mobile continues to grow, we are well positioned. We have the infrastructure and are ready to move forward with future platforms, and ready to accommodate more and more simultaneous users.”
He noted that there is a lot of additional technology running things on game day— POS systems, concessions, building and maintenance —and they need to ensure that mission critical components are always on. Some of these systems are necessarily different than what the fans are using. “You wouldn’t want something [like a Wi-Fi network] used by 300 people, like in the press box, to have their access diminished because you are accommodating thousands of others.” The players all have tablets, but they are not allowed on the field yet.
Hitherto, Smolenski said the focus has been on the fans and their experience. “But now we have the ability to take look at things from an operational standpoint. We will find different uses as we build,” he said.
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Keeping it Connected