As technology has become a more prevalent part of everyday life, our devices have changed the way we interact with the world around us. Nowhere has this shift in behavior been felt more than the entertainment industry. Audiences no longer simply watch what is before them, but instead share reactions on social media, search for similar information online and talk to their friends about what is happening.
In order to accommodate this change, the NFL has undertaken an initiative to equip all stadiums in the league with improved Wi-Fi by the start of the 2015 season. Many arenas in the league already offer Wi-Fi access to spectators, but it often provides insufficient service, keeping fans from Googling player stats or posting a video of their touchdown dance. In an interview with USA Today, NFL CIO Michelle Mckenna-Doyle said that part of the problem was that the league, as well as many of the teams, debuted mobile applications without first improving their network capacity.
In an interview with USA Today, Extreme Networks CEO Chuck Berger estimated that between 25 percent and 30 percent of visitors currently use the Wi-Fi networks offered by stadiums and expects that number to double within the next few years.
Large-scale stadiums present a unique challenge in terms of infrastructure. They are primarily built using steel and concrete, which makes it difficult for signals to penetrate. The surge of traffic at particular times can also be difficult for a network to handle, as fans all tend to get online at kickoff, half-time and as they are leaving the stadium complex. With these challenges in mind, specialized Wi-Fi networks have already been installed at the stadiums of the New England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles, Jacksonville Jaguars, Cincinnati Bengals, Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans.
Wi-Fi networks benefit more than the fans
While an improved fan experience is certainly an important access of the effort to enhance Wi-Fi capacity, Berger noted that can also be used as a subtle way for teams to drive business.
"The franchises in the NFL are doing this not only to allow you to upload selfies but to take advantage of the commercial opportunity to send you promotional information," said Berger. "Tom Brady just threw a touchdown pass. Twenty-five percent off his jersey at the logo wear store. Things like that."
And the potential goes even further than just marketing. In an interview with CIO Online, McKenna-Doyle expressed an interest in leveraging the amount of fan data captured on the Wi-Fi networks to perform predictive analytics.
"What are leading indicators of things people are starting to do and early adopters are starting to do," said McKenna-Doyle. "What are things that pop on the screen that we haven't thought about yet? When data can be predictive is when it's most valuable. We'll spend a bit of time to see if we are meeting needs and the next goal is to predict what fans are going to want to do."