The Bottom Line: The Patriots and two teams with newer stadiums are delivering faster Internet
Earlier this fall, I was at an NFL game. I won’t say at which one, but it was the season opener for the home team, and the stadium was packed. At the beginning of the game, I took a few pictures of the players taking the field, and tried to upload them to Instagram.
It didn’t work.
I tried to post them again, a few times throughout the game. No luck. I consistently got the frustrating message, “Upload failed.” I had a feeling that the stadium Internet was to blame – the pictures finally went through, just as I got to my car after the game.
The lack of Internet access didn’t ruin my in-game experience – I spent more time looking at the field than at my phone. But it was inconvenient. And that’s a complaint that’s being heard more and more throughout the NFL.
As smartphone use increases, so does the demand for faster, more reliable stadium Internet. Tens of thousands of fans are checking in on social media to let their friends know they’re at the big game. They’re uploading photos, updating Facebook statuses and keeping tabs on fantasy football scores. And all those fans online? The more fans, the more bandwidth and faster speeds stadiums need to have.
But many stadiums are lacking in technological advancements like instant replay, electronic check-ins and high-speed Internet. And the NFL is feeling the heat. Ticket sales have declined in recent years as more and more people choose to tune in at home, where there’s comfortable seating, cheaper unlimited snacks, and – you guessed it – fast Internet.
To boost ticket sales and to keep fans happy, teams are going to need to invest in new technology. It’s an issue that the NFL has already recognized. In 2012, Commissioner Roger Goodell announced a push to get high-speed Wi-Fi in every stadium, and he implemented new Wi-Fi and cellular standards this year. Some teams are already responding.
Which teams are leading the way toward faster stadium Internet?
It’s not surprising that The Pats have one of the most technologically advanced stadiums in the league – Patriots’ president Jonathan Kraft is also the head of the NFL’s digital media committee.
The Pats were the first team in the NFL to launch a free, stadium-wide Wi-Fi network in 2009. And last year, the team improved Internet access at Gillette even further by installing a high-capacity Wi-Fi system capable of supporting more fans online. The team also provides fans with free mobile access to NFL RedZone, a game day alarm featuring the voices of Pats’ players and coaches, and exclusive footage of the pregame.
The Patriots even have their own app, which allows fans at the game to order food from their seats and find the bathrooms with the shortest lines. And in October, the team partnered with Verizon Internet for #FiOSTailGaming, a pre-game XBOX tournament at Gillette.
AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, boasts some of the world’s largest HDTVs. At 2,100 inches across, they hang 90 feet above the field. But the stadium is also making progress in terms of connectivity.
The Cowboy’s partnership with wireless giant AT&T allows them to provide fans with one of the best technological experiences in the league. The stadium offers free Wi-Fi as well as access to AT&T’s 4G LTE network. That means that Cowboys fans can stream highlights from other NFL games, check their fantasy scores and update social media without interruption.
The Cowboys also have an app that provides real-time updates and statistics, clips of plays and interviews and post-game blogs. It’s not quite at the level of other game day apps, like the Patriots’, but it’s getting there.
Like Apple, Google and Facebook, the 49ers call Silicon Valley home. And they’re doing their tech-savvy roots proud as they build the league’s most technologically advanced stadium for the 2014 season.
When it opens in 2014, Levi’s Stadium will offer free stadium-wide high-density Wi-Fi capability, IPTV, and over 13,000 square feet of HDTV screens. The 49ers will also launch their own mobile app that allows fans to find the shortest beer, food and bathroom lines, view the field from different angles, and stream NFL RedZone from their seats.
The 49ers, who are the hosts of the 2016 Super Bowl, hope that these tech developments will appeal to everyday fans and the Silicon Valley elite by allowing them to easily stream, download, update and watch from their mobile devices during games.
What’s next for stadium technology?
Ten other NFL stadiums currently provide fans with venue-wide Wi-Fi: MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, the Georgia Dome, Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, the New Orleans Superdome, Charlotte’s Bank of America stadium, Sun Life Stadium in Miami, the University of Phoenix Stadium, Detroit’s Ford Field and Soldier Field in Chicago.
Many other teams have Wi-Fi in specific areas, with plans to expand access stadium-wide. The Redskins recently received $27 million to, among other things, improve Internet access at FedEx Field, and the Eagles also updated their Wi-Fi network this season.
Will improved technology and better Internet access help the NFL fill seats? We’ll have to wait and see.
Bio: Kelley McGrath is a marketing professional and freelance writer specializing in sports tech. She enjoys traveling and is an avid Redskins fan. You can find her on Twitter at @KelleyAnneMac.