SEAT Conference Focuses on Venues’ Cellular, WiFi Services

The Sports and Entertainment Alliance in Technology (SEAT) took over Kansas City sports venues and the Sheraton hotel last week for three days of seminars and exhibits focused on one of the hottest areas in sports-technology development: helping venues, and the teams that operate within them, better reach fans in the seats via high-speed cellular data and WiFi services.

The Sports Video Group (SVG) was also on hand for a closing-day session that took a look at another important area: improving communication between broadcasters who are increasingly pressured to ride IP pipes to push and pull content between venues and broadcast centers and the venues that often find themselves having to respond quickly to such needs.

More than 300 CTO and CIO types representing various professional and collegiate sports franchises and venues attended the 35+ sessions and roundtables. There was a heavy emphasis not only on the need for a technical backbone that can meet the needs of sports fans who want to always be connected but also the marketing and CRM side of mining data and building relationships through SMS text messaging, apps, and e-mails.

And fans and critics do notice. AEG CIO Denise Taylor said that, prior to the installation of full DAS (distributed antenna system) and WiFi connectivity in Los Angeles’s Staples Center eight months ago, the building was often beaten up in the press for a lackluster experience.

“But we enhanced it with Cisco,” she said, “and have a robust DAS system that now gets us positive, happy feedback.”

A constant theme was understanding the fan base and how it is changing. For example, moving to electronic ticketing with fans using barcodes delivered to their phones may seem like a non-starter for the over-50 crowd, but LSU will move its students, who are comfortable using their phones for everything and anything, to electronic tickets this football season.

And sports like NASCAR, which are dealing with an aging demo, are working hard to get younger fans to the track. International Speedway CTO Brandon McNulty is currently working hard on giving Daytona’s International Speedway a major technical overhaul. He said the 54-year-old facility will have a new technology foundation.

“We have a low rate of use on a facility that has large square mileage and also fans that stay for a rather long time,” he added. “We need to deal with those factors and have our partners deliver the technology we need.”

But, with evolving technologies like mobile devices, new compression formats, and more, it is often hard to plan today for tomorrow’s needs. Chip Foley, VP of technology for Forest City Ratner Companies and Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, said that things like access locations, pathways that run through a venue, the amount of space needed for DAS antennas, and other considerations need to be planned ahead of any construction.

“Get out early and talk to the carriers, as you will need room for racks and the DAS,” he said. “Don’t skimp on the design side. For example, light fixtures should not impede cable trays.”

Brian Mirakian, associate principal for Populus, was involved intimately with the design and construction of Sporting KC stadium. He noted that the goal was to not design for the stadium opening in 2012 but rather for what will be needed five years from now.

“Those sort of philosophical and technical backbone conversations were really critical to have upfront, as a lot of technologies may be in place down the road and the trends may shift from streaming content to uploading or even augmented reality. There are millions of possibilities.”

The SEAT conference provided a chance to discuss a few of those possibilities. In the coming years, you can expect both SEAT and SVG to work more closely to help ensure that you understand the most important of those many possibilities.

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