Sports fans today are wired. They watch the game on TV with a phone or tablet in their hand, which they use to check highlights from other games and track their fantasy league.
That works fine on the couch at home, but what about for fans who go to the games? Football tickets aren't cheap, so fans should be able to get the same -- or better -- experience when they bring a phone or iPad to the game.
At least that's what the New England Patriots think. Spurred on by a suggestion from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, last year the Patriots became one of the first NFL teams to offer Wi-fi throughout the entire stadium.
Fred Kirsch, the Publisher and VP of Content for the team, explains that the Patriots took about two months to install more than 300 wireless access points from Enterasys before the beginning of the 2012 season.
Placement of the access points is key, Kirsch told CITEworld. "With high density Wi-Fi, you cannot just throw up as many access points as you can. You're dealing with most people at 2.4mHz, and you're only allowed 3 channels, which means you get channel bleed, channel interference."
Kirsch says that the Patriots were lucky because Gillette Stadium is tiered, so they could hang the access points on a beam above the seats and paint them Patriots blue to fit in. It's a lot harder for some European soccer teams. "Some of these are just open bowls, there's nowhere to hang access points. They get really creative using handrails and different places."
The Patriots also had to add additional gear to make sure access was fast and available from every seat.
"There are challenges because of distance from main data frame. You have to overcome those by building remote IDFs -- intermediate data frames -- they're little closets can be hung that have their own switches and act as hops to alleviate those distance concerns. We added about 20 of those around the stadium."
The Patriots also worked with Pittsburgh-based Yinzcam to build a custom app called Patriot Game Day. It includes instant camera angles and video replays that aren't available anywhere else, and detailed weather alerts -- "We'll get right down to 'in the fourth quarter you might want to bring a jacket,'" explains Kirsch.
For the 2013 season, they're adding some new features like the ability to order concessions ahead of time -- no waiting in line! -- and real-time traffic updates customized to a fan's location. There will even be special audio clips that people can download and set as their alarm clocks. "So if people want to be woken up by Tom Brady telling them to get up out of bed on game day, we will be able to do that." The team is also considering letting fans buy merchandise from the app, so they can go and pick it up directly without waiting in line, just like they'll be able to do with concessions.
Kirsch says that about 10% of fans are taking advantage of the app.
Naturally, the team has plenty of online interaction for the millions of Patriots fans who aren't at the game in person, including an iPad app called Patriots Football Daily that includes real-time stats, content from the exclusive Patriots newspaper, and new in 2013, a live audio feed from the stadium's PA system, so fans can feel like they're really there.
Kirsch also runs a live blog of every game. "I have as many as 20 or 25 thousand fans following along with me." Some of them follow and ask questions as they watch the game on TV, while others use it as their sole way of following the game.
But the real goal is to give fans the connectivity to the team that they've come to expect.
"We're really fulfilling the fan's wishes to stay connected wherever you are," he says. "People want that extra piece of connectivity besides just watching, whether they're talking to friends, engaging in fantasy football, or seeing live stats."
Now they'll be able to get it wherever they are -- even at the stadium.