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There’s no question Kansas City Chiefs fans are a loyal — and vocal — bunch. The team once sold out every game in its 76,416-seat Arrowhead Stadium for 18 years straight (1991–2009), and just last year, Chiefs fans were recognized by the Guinness World Records for the loudest crowd roar in an outdoor stadium.
So when fans began asking for more wireless connectivity inside the stadium on gameday, the Chiefs organization took notice and wasted no time tackling the issue.
“We’re going to do whatever we can to improve their experience and make them happy,” says David Young, vice president of stadium operations. “To actually attend a Chiefs game is seen as a badge of honor among our fans, and people want to be able to take a picture and post it on Facebook or check in on Foursquare and say, ‘I’m at the game.’ They can’t do that without connectivity.”
At the first home game of the 2013 season, the Chiefs unveiled Arrowhead Wi-Fi, a high-density Cisco Systems wireless network that, along with a new mobile app powered by YinzCam, allows in-stadium fans to connect with the team — and each other — on gameday.
More than 600 wireless access points (APs) are now located throughout the stadium, part of a new network that allows fans to call, text, post to social media and track other NFL gameday and Fantasy Football scores and stats. Ticket holders who equip their devices with Chiefs Mobile, the team’s new app, can view video replays of any play they choose, instantly, from at least six different camera angles. “To be able to sit in a stadium and view a play from all these different angles, just seconds after it happened, just blew people away,” Young says. Connectivity complaints are now a thing of the past, he adds. “All the feedback we have from people who use the system is really positive.”
The Chiefs are not alone in upping the ante to make home games more appealing to digitally savvy fans who increasingly expect the gameday experience to be supplemented with virtual connections and instant access to a wealth of information. Some are choosing to forego the cost of a ticket and instead watch games from the convenience of their own homes, where they also can enjoy a big-screen TV and fast, broadband Internet, Young says.
The trend could explain why attendance across the NFL dropped markedly between 2008 and 2011, spurring NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to encourage teams to offer more in-stadium Wi-Fi access.
“All NFL teams have realized that we are not only competing with other local sports and a range of entertainment options out there, but we’re also competing against ourselves in terms of how people consume our product,” Young says. “If we’re going to get people to come out to the stadium and brave the traffic and the weather, then we have to give them access to the mobility and modern technologies that they want.”
Installing Wi-Fi in any stadium is no easy task, but Arrowhead Stadium proved especially challenging, says Bob Stirton, director of information technology for the Chiefs. The outdoor facility, built in 1972, is one of the largest in the NFL.
“Our biggest challenge was finding locations to mount the number of wireless APs and antennas required to support clients in the bowl of the stadium,” Stirton says. “Our stadium bowl has very long seating sections, most of which offer no way to position antennas near the middle of those sections.”
And because Arrowhead is an open bowl, RF signals “bounce around like crazy,” Chiefs Network Engineer Scott Fletcher says. That problem is compounded by the sheer density of mobile devices that typically arrive on gameday, and the potential for interference from the many TV crews and other media organizations that cover each event.
To address these unique challenges, the Chiefs IT team partnered with CDW, which had worked on successful Wi-Fi network deployments at the Atlanta Falcons’ Georgia Dome, the Chicago Cubs’ Arizona training facility and 13 motorsport tracks owned by the International Speedway Corp.
Ultimately, the Chiefs decided to deploy a Cisco Systems–based network “because they’re really the proven design for stadiums,” Fletcher says.
Arrowhead’s Wi-Fi network comprises several new, stadium-grade components, including Cisco 5555 firewalls, Cisco 5508 controllers, Cisco 3850 wireless switches and about 600 Cisco 3500 and 3600 series APs. The IT team uses Cisco Prime Infrastructure to manage network demand and balance bandwidth load.
IT personnel placed APs throughout the stadium, mounting them on tunnel entrances and installing three tiers of antennae on the ceiling above the lower bowl, positioning each at different angles to better reach each seating section. The IT team erected mast poles as AP mounts around the rim of the stadium to provide coverage in the upper bowl, allowing the devices to shoot signals down over the crowd.
“We used very specific Cisco antennas to target certain sections of fans, which helps to balance the number of clients that attach to each access point,” Fletcher explains.
Chiefs fans have been quick to take advantage of the new connectivity, Stirton says.
“They don’t necessarily know that we’ve installed 600 access points around the stadium, but they know that they can use their smartphones and get the connectivity they need, when they need it,” he says.
The new Chiefs Mobile app has been downloaded 75,000 times, providing player and coach bios, team and game stats, rosters, injury reports and news feeds, as well as access to NFL Red Zone, which shows video highlights of every touchdown across the league. The app’s most innovative — and popular — feature is instant replay, which offers multiple views of every play during every drive down the field, available only at Arrowhead Stadium on game day.
“Our organization thrives on fans attending our events and having a really good time. Knowing that the fans are happier is the greatest benefit for our organization,” Young says.
The team’s investment in new Wi-Fi is also providing some unexpected returns. A pilot program that put wireless ordering devices in the hands of cocktail servers has led to measureable increases in clubhouse bar sales, Young says. Using their smartphones, stadium-goers can also order concessions from their seat and purchase chances on the Chiefs 50/50 Raffle charity fundraiser.
Chiefs employees — including IT staff — also enjoy the ability to work from anywhere within the stadium, thanks to greater connectivity.
“The wireless network is essentially providing more convenience for everyone,” Fletcher says. “It gives us a foundation to continue to add new features over time and really transform the fan experience. Fans now have that much more incentive to come out to the stadium and enjoy a Chiefs game.”