“Should I stay or should I go?” – The Clash: Combat Rock, 1982

The advent of the Ultra HD TV combined with the high cost to attend a major sporting event has drawn millions away from the stadiums and arenas to watch their favorite teams at home or in sports bars.   Now in response, many venues are getting savvier about wireless technology and smartphone apps in an effort to offset this trend.

Personally speaking, it started several years ago when I paid a lot of money for poor seats, parking and low quality concession food to watch an NBA game where Shaquille O’Neal didn’t even hustle back on defense. Over time, I found myself upgrading my TV and watching more games at homes. I also have discovered it is a lot of fun to watch my favorite team with other likeminded fans in a sports bar where I can watch several TVs, as well as have food and beer brought to my table.

And now, watching a game is becoming a multi device experience. We watch the game on TV while we use our phones, tablets and laptops to look up stats, track scores, tweet comments and monitor our fantasy teams.

But the venues are getting smart and beginning to counter with some attractive features to get us back in the seats.   For example, stadiums have been working to improve the food quality by offering food such as local BBQ or sushi. Stadiums have also worked to increase service by delivering food to your seat within the venue. And the cellular operators are significantly upgrading their networks in and around the venue while the stadiums are enhancing their own Wi-Fi for fan use. Additionally, stadiums are developing apps to enhance the fan experience. These apps manage ticket and parking access, allow you to order food for delivery to your seat and/or express pickup and also offer HD instant replays of the action.

The biggest challenge these stadiums face is keeping up with the fans’ demand for wireless data, which can substantially impact the overall fan experience.

It is estimated that the amount of data traffic consumed at the Super Bowl doubles every year. This year, the four major carriers are reporting that the fans in Levi Stadium in Santa Clara, California for Super Bowl 50 used a combined 15.9 terabytes on their networks and we are still waiting for numbers from the stadium Wi-Fi.[1] These early reports already indicate that this will double the data consumed at Super Bowl XLIX in 2015 at the University of Phoenix stadium in Glendale, Arizona, where fans used 6.5 and 6.23 terabytes of data between the four major carrier networks and the stadium Wi-Fi respectively. This essentially doubled the 2.5 TB of cellular and 3.3 TB of Wi-Fi consumed in 2014 at Super Bowl XLVIII in MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.[2]

While the typical sporting event does not consume anywhere near 15.9 TB, having adequate bandwidth in and around a stadium certainly impacts the fan experience.

Personally speaking I have experienced both poor and excellent in-stadium connectivity. I have attended some regular season college football games in campus stadiums where I could not even get a simple text to go through to ask if my wife if she wanted a soda while I was in line at concession.   What was really annoying at each of these stadiums was that I knew other people who subscribed to a competing cellular carrier and had no issues. One was even streaming video of another game on the other side of the country.

On the good side, I experienced fantastic connectivity at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona while attending the College Football Playoff National Championship game in January of this year. Since this was the same stadium that hosted the Super Bowl in 2015 I had high expectations, which I am pleased to say were exceeded. I was able to upload photos and short videos, participate in group chats with other friends in the stadium and even did a video call (albeit a bit choppy) with my son who was watching the game at home and was very excited about the outcome of the game.

As host of the most recent Super Bowl, Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara is most likely the premiere venue in the world for wireless deployments. The stadium is divided into 40 coverage zones with 400 antennas (many under the seats by fans’ feet) and 450 remote radio units. The stadium also boasts its own Levi’s Stadium app. However I can only assume it will soon be eclipsed by NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas when it hosts Super Bowl LI in February of 2017.

So, the thousands of folks in the wireless infrastructure industry have done a great job of enhancing the fan experience inside some of the large sports venues. But not every stadium can deliver this superior connectivity. It is simply too expensive to put millions of dollars into every stadium and arena in the country.

And this combined enhanced experience of nicer stadiums, better food and high bandwidth comes at a cost to consumers. Meanwhile, the increased quality of TV’s combined with the comforts and food in homes and favorite sports bars gives us an equally enjoyable experience without fighting the crowds.

In my opinion, there is nothing more exciting than the atmosphere at a live game, but sitting in front of a TV with friends and food where I can get commentary to go with each play provides a better viewing experience. I guess I am still undecided.

[1] Mobile Sports Report, February 2016 – http://www.mobilesportsreport.com/2016/02/super-bowl-super-das-verizon-att-combine-for-12-2-tb-of-cellular-data-at-super-bowl-50/

[2] Mobile Sports Report, September 2015 – http://www.mobilesportsreport.com/2015/09/dgp-upgrades-levis-stadium-das-in-preparation-for-super-bowl-50/