Utah Jazz kick off massive arena renovation project with Boingo, SOLiD

Tuesday December 6th, 2016

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As technology continues to exert its enormous impact on sports, the in-game fan experience is extremely important and rapidly changing. Before the advent and mass proliferation of smartphones, teams had the fairly unobstructed attention of their fans. While competing factors weren’t completely absent in the past, the thought process that teams must now consider in order to compete for attention has done a complete 180 in a society where fans are borderline addicted to checking their phones.

This evolution has created a challenge for front offices that want to ensure their fans still value the in-game experience. With a much greater importance being placed on having full access to one’s smart devices, data consumption at venues has been a challenge. NBA arenas host about 20,000 fans, MLB venues host 30,000 to 50,000 fans and NFL stadiums sometimes host upwards of 70,000 fans or more; requiring access to incredible amounts of mobile data in very small settings.

“Data consumption has been nearly doubling each year over the past five to seven, and it is not slowing,” Doug Lodder, Senior Vice President Business Development at Boingo Wireless, said “With that amount of data being used, systems begin to collapse and teams begin to get complaints on social media and word begins to get out. An issue is sometimes fans have bars on their cell phones but don’t have service or functionality in their phone, and that is something challenging to figure out. Teams come to us to figure out the best ways to solve these issues.”

Seamless usage of mobile devices is paramount to getting fans to games. In response, teams are looking to network experts like Boingo Wireless and SOLiD to alleviate the extraordinary pressure placed on high-traffic venues and adequately handle growing data requirements.

Boingo, a leading Wi-Fi and DAS provider, and SOLiD, an innovator in public-safety wireless, recently teamed up to address connectivity concerns at Vivint Smart Home Arena, home to the Utah Jazz.

The Utah Jazz moved into what is now Vivint Smart Home Arena back in 1991, and any technology enthusiast knows that a lot has changed since then. While the team still has a dedicated home fan base and a strong home court environment, it has launched a $125 million facility renovation that includes an upgrade of the technology within the arena as well as physical stadium improvements to aid the fan experience from the concourse to additional luxury seating. The Jazz are calling the initiative “Arena Rising” (follow along via #ArenaRising and #ConnectivityComesFirst).

“When we evaluated Vivint Arena’s needs, we came to the conclusion that a full renovation was the best path forward,” Vivint Smart Home Arena president Jim Olson said. “We decided early on that technology was going to be a major part of that. Our fans wanted to have seamless connectivity as that is a basic function that any arena should be able to provide. It provides our fans with added amenities like ease of purchasing from a smartphone, and for the team, that can provide additional revenue opportunities. Sponsors are also looking for digital assets, so there are opportunities there as well.”

For some, it appears that renovation projects are a road less traveled these days as new stadiums are being built around the country, sometimes with facilities that haven’t even been paid off yet and often involving large outlays of public tax dollars. Top-dollar renovation projects can be a more turnkey approach for securing necessary upgrades without a complete overhaul.

As part of the Jazz’s technology upgrade, the team, Boingo and SOLiD set out to completely update the connectivity within Vivint Smart Home Arena with the installation of a DAS (distributed antenna system) solution and to bring the arena into the modern age. Two DAS networks were installed, with one dedicated to boosting cellular coverage for fans’ connected experiences and the second focused on public safety.

“The top-to-bottom upgrades at Vivint Smart Home Arena started with connectivity — not only for the fan experience, but also fan safety,” Shane Hague, director of business development at SOLiD, said. “Working with Boingo, we deployed commercial public-safety DAS equipment that is part of the arena’s emergency preparedness strategy and allows first responders to effectively communicate with one another during an incident. We are seeing this trend among large venues, where networks are optimized with coverage specifically dedicated to public-safety communications.”

While the connectivity process may seem straightforward, it actually involves a very challenging set of hurdles, which is why the Jazz relies on Boingo to manage the multi-carrier DAS network end-to-end. Said Lodder, “With the Jazz specifically, they came to us with a lot of thoughts in mind but we still gave them specific recommendations for their infrastructure. We aim to build networks that yes, address today’s demands, but almost more importantly, are ready to handle the increasing data consumption rates of tomorrow.”

By serving as a neutral-host DAS provider, Boingo creates revenue opportunities for the Jazz through wireless carriers that want to get on the network and increase coverage for customers.

The NBA provides a unique challenge in handling the data demands of its fans due to the composition of its schedule. While the NFL handles more fans on a per game basis, there are only 10 home events including the preseason, as compared to 41 home games in the NBA regular season alone.

With the Utah Jazz consistently selling out or having close to a capacity crowds each night, the connectivity demands are put to the test at a much higher frequency than in other sports. And it’s not only major league sporting events that can exhaust a network. Vivint Smart Home Arena hosts more than 100 events each year, with headline acts like Coldplay coming through Salt Lake City. As March Madness nears, the arena will also be a host site for the 2017 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship.

(Courtesy of the Utah Jazz)
(Courtesy of the Utah Jazz)

Technology demands aren’t static and the needs and demands of fans are constantly changing. Boingo networks are scalable and can be tweaked, depending on new fan demands or industry changes, and the evaluation process is continuous with the teams they serve.

“We are always evaluating and testing the systems to see if they can be improved,” Lodder said. “Fan behavior is a process that changes often and we always want to be prepared to be able to handle these evolving needs.”

While technology provides opportunities for teams to improve their fan engagement and boost their revenue sources, there are always unique challenges involved with staying current and handling the ever-changing demands of the fans. Best practices one year might be outdated by the next. Boingo is looking to tackle these problems and help their team clients stay ahead of the curve to continue to engage the 21st century fan. The Jazz happen to be the most recent professional team to prioritize these technological upgrades, but with Boingo’s attention on this critical priority, other venues will follow suit in the future.

“We have greatly enjoyed working with Boingo and SOLiD and their whole team in getting the tech upgrades at Vivint finalized,” Olson said. “They have a great expertise with the challenges we are trying to solve and the result is an upgraded fan experience and Vivint being one of the premier facilities in the country.”

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