Enterasys, Boston Sports Teams Talk Future of Stadium Tech at Gillette

1/16/13Follow @gthuang

If you get invited to Gillette Stadium the week of the AFC championship game, you go, even if you’ve been homeless for three weeks (a story for another time).

So it was last night that I found myself making the drive down I-95 and Route 1 into Foxborough, MA, past the parking lots that would be teeming with tailgaters this Sunday, when the New England Patriots take on the Baltimore Ravens for the right to advance to the Super Bowl.

I was at the stadium for a “CIO Mobility” event organized by Enterasys Networks, a Salem, NH-based networking tech company that has installed a new wireless system at Gillette (more on that below). Enterasys helped bring together a panel of top tech execs from the four major pro sports teams in Boston—the Pats, Celtics, Bruins, and Red Sox—to talk about what they’re doing in mobile and digital tech to help fans and customers, and to impact their businesses.

Speaking of fans, as I walked into the event and was greeted by a pair of Patriots cheerleaders and the team mascot, I was reminded of how some tech reporters must feel when they cover Apple events. I’ve been a Pats fan since the early ‘90s; I remember being the doormat of the AFC East, and I still find it hard to believe how far the franchise has come.

(At the event, I also got to meet Scott Zolak, the sportscaster and former Pats quarterback, pictured at left. Let’s just throw out any semblance of objectivity right now.)

Over dinner, I talked with Enterasys execs about their work with the Patriots. Essentially they have built and tested a massive Wi-Fi network for the Gillette Stadium crowd—one of the first of its kind. So 70,000 fans can connect to the Web via their mobile devices, to communicate with friends and use various apps that enhance the game-day experience.

It’s pretty hard to provide reliable Wi-Fi for such a big (and dense) crowd. The Enterasys network uses something like 360 access points, roughly the same number of antennas, and various “hopping” architectures and switches to connect the access points to the Gillette mainframe, which talks to the Internet.

Jonathan Kraft, the president of the Patriots, said in his public remarks that his team has been looking for ways to enhance the crowd’s experience since about 2008-09, when HDTVs and other home-viewing technologies were really taking off. “We have to figure out how to give them an experience that’s different from home,” Kraft said. “Live viewing is at risk, unless you make it more engaging, special, and unique.”

That could mean access to camera angles you won’t see anywhere else; exclusive audio from miked-up players and coaches; locker-room video at halftime; special game-time stats; and more. It could also mean ordering from concession stands ahead of time, so you don’t have to stand in a long line when you get there; and possibly even showing wait times at the stadium’s restrooms. Kraft said some of this would be available next season. (One more suggestion: smarter parking and traffic directions so you don’t have to sit in the lot for an hour or two after the game. Not sure how to solve this.)

All of it, of course, takes wireless infrastructure. Kraft, who co-chairs the NFL’s digital media committee, came right out and said his experiences with tech companies generally have not been good. As he put it, some companies install systems for millions of dollars, and the technology … Next Page »

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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  • http://twitter.com/RosenRos1 Christopher Rosen

    looks like it was a fantastic event!