As part of my recent trip to San Francisco for SEAT Conference 2015, I was lucky enough to visit Levi’s Stadium, the new home of the San Francisco 49ers, not once but twice in the space of a week.
Dubbed the world’s most high tech venue, Levi’s Stadium technology boasts 1,200 wifi access points and 2,000 beacons from Aruba Networks, 2,000 IPTVs and 400 miles of cabling.
The first visit was part of the SEAT Conference Levi’s Stadium technology tour. SEAT conference attendees could choose one of three technology tours. I chose the Levi’s Stadium Mobile Experience which gave us a deep dive into the Levi’s Stadium Mobile App covering features like mobile ordering, ticketing, content and way-finding, as for me this is where the rubber hits the road on game day for the fan in a connected stadium.
The second visit was six days later for the Barcelona v Manchester United pre-season clash in front of a sellout 68,416 crowd.
These are my key takeaways from both visits.
1. Bandwidth and a great wifi experience is key
The Levi’s Stadium app has been developed by VenueNext. The company was founded just last year with one client, the 49ers. However they plan to be in 30 venues by the end of 2015.
VenueNext CEO, John Paul, spoke of the fact that many venues now have wifi but where some struggle is the internet pipes coming into the stadiums are simply not big enough to satisfy demand. Levi’s Stadium boasts a massive 40 gigabits of bandwidth, in and out, which is significantly greater than the standard for stadiums that was mandated by the NFL to be in place by 2015.
The Stadium is nowhere nearing maxing out that bandwidth. Recent concerts have seen network loads of over 2 Gbps.
Clearly they are future proofing the platform as much as possible at a time when we are still seeing exponential growth in data transferred on stadium wifi networks. Super Bowl XLIX set a new stadium Wi-Fi record with 6.2 Terabytes of data consumed, almost double the usage Superbowl XLVIII. The upcoming Super Bowl at this very venue will no doubt smash the record again.
My biggest single takeaway from SEAT 2015 was to first and foremost concentrate on delivering a great wifi experience and network infrastructure when implementing a connected stadium solution. Apps, IPTV, monetisation all come after this.
2. Mobile Ticketing will become the standard
Many access control systems already offer mobile scanning capability. VenueNext’s solution, Kezar (quaintly named after the original 49ers Stadium at Golden Gate Park) allows fans to scan their own tickets and parking passes. The system is battery powered, Wi-Fi enabled and portable meaning they can be moved around easily depending on the event and demand at various entrances. Kezar is then connected to the control room for real-time analytics.
In 2015 the 49ers will move away from paper tickets for the first time. In their first year at Levis Stadium 60% of all ticket holders regularly utilised e-ticketing. For the upcoming season it will be 100%. (Fans will still be able to print at home via the app).
What a great way to ensure 100% usage of your app!!
3. Personalise the fan experience
This is still early days for the 49ers and Levi’s Stadium, but they are doing some cool stuff to personalise the fan experience.
For example, greeters at each gate have access to a tablet so they are able to immediately see the name of the person coming through. In time, the 49ers hope to use the technology to completely personalise the experience by enabling greeters to gift people on say their 50th attendance or upgrade them on their birthday.
There are some other exciting plans in place. For example, for the upcoming season they will launch a feature which will welcome fans on the huge entry screens by name (and a photo if they’ve used the appropriate hashtag) as they enter the venue via the app and beacon technology. Even better the fan will receive a push notification to say that their photo is about to be posted on the screen.
4. Keep it simple
This was another interesting learning. A single app for fans is important. John’s view was that you can’t expect people to use multiple apps at a venue. You’ve got to have one app.
For this reason, the Levi’s Stadium app integrates with the 49ers app on game day and provides everything fans need at the stadium. This keeps things simple and avoids the need to skip between a team app and a stadium app.
Another important learning was to stick to the basics in order to ensure high utilisation; ticketing, food, queues, getting around, video and stats. These are the features that fans want.
49ers COO, Al Guido, expanded on this on the final panel discussion (which I was honoured to be part of) at SEAT on the topic of “Getting To Yes”. The panel explored how to grow budgets, support initiatives and gain funding support for organisational technology initiatives. Al put it simply and succinctly;
Does it enhance our fan experience? Give our fans access that they don’t have today?
The upshot? If it doesn’t benefit the fan, don’t do it.
5. Actionable data
One of the key benefits of the connected stadium solution at Levi’s Stadium is that the venue has access to the data real-time and has the ability to control the ecosystem.
The analytics dashboard monitors all of the venue’s systems live during the event.
I highly recommend watching the two part interview that John Paul did with Robert Scoble on Levi’s Stadium Technology at the recent Taylor Swift concert. For one it’s a great overview of what we experienced first-hand at the tour, but it also expands on the integration with the stadium’s systems.
Robert Scoble: Part I of the tech tour behind the scenes of Levi’s Stadium
Robert Scoble: Part II of the tech tour behind the scenes of Levi’s Stadium
As John Paul puts it “It interfaces with the systems in the stadium that the fans care about”.
In short the data allows the venue to determine staffing needs, monitor point of sale performance and queues real-time and implement affirmative action on the go.
6. Use the data in your storytelling to build your brand
I’ve seen some recent connected stadium launches down under where there has been surprisingly little PR. And I’m yet to see a venue share it’s learnings; successes or failures in any detail publicly.
Both John Paul and Al Guido have been very forthcoming about what was worked well and what didn’t perform as expected. John believed that video would be the most important feature of the app, “but ticketing, way-finding and food and beverage were the killer ones”.
They share information such as the $800,000 in food orders from the app in year one and a 54%/46% split for in-seat ordering compared to express pick up.
They are using this data to the benefit of the 49ers and Levis Stadium brands. They are showing both as progressive, innovative organisations. They are making their mark as THE leaders in the in-venue technology and fan engagement space. This makes them highly attractive propositions for potential sponsors.
Numbers are hugely important in telling your story, creating sharable and interesting content and acquiring earned media coverage.
Special mention to Paul Kapustka for being relentless in pursuing these numbers and sharing them with the industry through his website Mobile Sports Report. His State of the Stadium Technology Survey 2015 is out now and a must read for anyone in the industry. He has also just released The Baseball (and Soccer!) Issue.
So what was the match day Levi’s Stadium technology experience like?
In short it was very impressive. I didn’t get to try ticketing or parking on the day, and the mobile video is only available for 49ers games. However I got to experience plenty of Levi’s Stadium technology on game day.
Soon after arriving for the game. I placed an order for in seat delivery. There was an additional $5 delivery fee. The app user experience was excellent. Here are some screenshots.
On the downside was the limited options for hot food. There was really just a hot dog and nachos. You could order crisps, popcorn, M&Ms and a range of soft drinks and mainstream beers. The limited food choice was surprising given the huge variety on the concourse. However it really struck me how difficult in-seat ordering is. You still need a human to deliver it, and they have to find you. And the systems integration! I assume ID checks are necessary for beers too. But I’m sure more variety is something the venue will build on in time.
On the positive side though, the hot dog was..hot! But most incredible was that it was delivered in 4 minutes flat. Very impressive.
On my many trips around the venue I couldn’t miss the IPTVs. All 2,000 of them. And they really added to the experience.
The screens were crisp and clear. A lot of time has obviously been spent on optimising the graphic displays. There was the right balance of menu boards, advertising messages and importantly match action, particularly for those in queues after half time.
On the SEAT tour I tested colossal speeds of over 40 Mbps and 30 Mbps respectively for upload and download. In fairness that was with about 500 people in the stadium. On game day I tested download speeds of up to 20 Mbps and upload of 10 Mbps. Still very impressive.
Another impressive feature of the app was way-finding. Through the stadium wifi and use of beacons it was a breeze to find your way around. However, signage and branding was superb the whole way around and I found that I didn’t need the app that much do get around.
Videoboards and digital signage
The giant screens on both ends were impressive without being obscenely big (hello Cowboys). At 200 feet wide these Daktronics boards were amply big to watch replays. They are big enough for John Paul to believe that video replay on mobile devices wasn’t as high as anticipated in year one.
I also really liked the ribbon boards upon entry. Very effective, slow animation, crisp and clear branding. The large boards on entry were not used on this day, but these will be the ones used to welcome fans personally for 49ers games this year as described earlier.
These nattily-dressed cyber warriors make up a 60-strong army of tech professionals roaming the stadium to answer fans questions about the WiFi and mobile app. Thomas was very friendly and helpful.
Faithful 49 loyalty programme
Although only applicable for 49ers games, the Faithful 49 loyalty programme is also baked into the app. The programme allows fans rack up points, or “yards”, by completing different tasks leading up to and during football season. In fact fans must be part of the programme to access the scarce number of single game tickets that go on sale for each game.
There are all kinds of tasks that can earn yards. And check out the rewards! The 49ers have created some great money can’t buy experiences.
Closer to home I also recommend checking out the Melbourne Storm’s Lightning Rewards programme. It is also world class. Head of Consumer Business at Melbourne Storm, Natalle Brown, presented at SEAT to huge acclaim. Check out her recent interview with Sean Callanan here.
This is just the beginning
What impressed me most about Al Guido and John Paul is that neither professes to have all the answers and that they are really at the beginning of much longer journey. They will constantly try new ideas. Some will resonate. Some won’t. But they have zero fear of any particular programme not working out. It’s almost as if they are in a constant state of beta testing.
This is truly a culture of innovation. Most of us will never have the budgets of the 49ers or Levi’s Stadium, but budget should not stymie innovation and new ideas. This was one of the key themes to emerge from SEAT also.
Until next time! Jesse Lingard gives United a 2-0 lead on the way to a 3-1 victory