The National Football League has named Extreme Networks Inc. its wireless analytics provider, starting with Super Bowl XLVIII. The agreement will give on-site IT organizations access to big data and Wi-Fi analytics information in real time, helping the league promote an improved mobile experience for fans during game time and consistent wireless performance across each stadium.
"Competing against HD TVs and a comfortable couch can be tough. The league has been trying to encourage attendance in all the stadiums by using technology to create an on-site experience that fans can't get anywhere else," said Mike Leibovitz, director of mobility and applications for San Jose, Calif.-based Extreme Networks.
Wireless analytics: Monitoring the fan experience in real time
Given the scale involved, IT organizations at large venues -- such as sports stadiums -- can't test how their Wi-Fi infrastructure will react to a full house of users and devices until an event is taking place. Having the ability to see how the network is performing in real time is critical. "Delivering robust connectivity to 70,000 or 80,000 fans in one building is very hard to do. The analytics capabilities really give the IT team the ability to ensure connectivity is being delivered throughout the entire building on game day," Leibovitz said.
In-stadium IT professionals using Extreme's OneFabric Control Center and its NetSight appliance will have better visibility into the performance of the wireless LAN and will receive alerts about access point failures and performance problems in real time. IT will have deeper insight into the sites their fans are visiting -- such as social networking sites -- and will also be able to see how many concurrent users are on the system, what kind of devices they are on and what section they are seated in, Leibovitz said.
"For some stadiums, it used to take days to tally up how many devices were on the Wi-Fi network during a game. Now, IT can log in to their centralized management tool and find out live," he said.
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Gilette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots, has had Extreme's wireless analytics technology in place for a year, along with its Extreme Networks' wireless LAN infrastructure. Gillette's IT team now knows how fans are using the Wi-Fi -- including whether they are uploading pictures to Facebook or checking out their Twitter stream, Fred Kirsch, publisher and vice president of content at Kraft Sports Productions and the Patriots.
IT sends reports to Kirsch during football games with information about fan behavior -- like how many concurrent users were on the network before and after the game, as well as during each quarter and halftime. "We are getting a high-level synopsis of what happened on the network during each game that we didn't have before," he said.
Extreme's wireless analytics technology will work with any vendor's wireless LAN technology, including Extreme's. In addition to Gillette Stadium, the Wi-Fi analytics appliances have already been deployed at the Detroit Lions' Ford Field, the Philadelphia Eagles' Lincoln Financial Field, and MetLife Stadium, home of the New York Giants and New York Jets. The remainder of the NFL stadiums will be rolling out the wireless analytics technology within the next couple of years.
Wireless analytics guide apps development, drive revenue
NFL teams can use wireless analytics to create new revenue opportunities and plan deployments of new points-of-sale stations in real time -- in addition to network performance for fans. Having access to user information -- such as where the most Wi-Fi users are located within the stadium and what sites they are visiting -- is allowing IT at Gillette to take action, based on the fans' actions, Kirsch said. "For example, if fans are on a travel site, we'd like to be able to serve up ads informing them that they could travel along with the Patriots," he said.
Teams will use wireless analytics to improve the fan experience. Gillette Stadium has developed a Game Day app that fans can use only inside Gillette Stadium. It allows them to access certain exclusives such as field-level cameras and instant replays. The app also makes concessions more accessible for fans, enabling the purchase of food and beverages, and even pro-shop gear. Attendees can also view maps of the stadium to get back to their seats quicker or check wait times for the nearest restroom.
Kirsch and his team will continue to introduce new features within the application -- such as audio between the coach and quarterback -- as the NFL allows, he said. "This type of content could affect competition, but in some form or fashion, when we are allowed, we will be ready for it," Kirsch said.
"The NFL knows that fans are coming to the games with their mobile devices, and it's important to be able to captivate all of those attendees," Extreme Networks' Leibovitz said.