Recently, I had the honor of hosting and moderating a virtual leadership roundtable featuring tech innovators planning for some of the largest, most tech-sophisticated digital entertainment venues in the world.
The power-packed lineup included Derrick Hill, Vice President of Cox Business and Hospitality Network at Cox Communications, Skarpi Hedinsson, CTO of SoFi Stadium & Hollywood Park, Matt Pasco, Vice President of Technology for The Las Vegas Raiders, and Steve Szabo, Vice President of Wireless, IoT, and Partnerships at Verizon Business. There was a wealth of knowledge to be gained from these four individuals packed into an hour.
In our conversation, we touched on the many technological innovations that are influencing business decisions right now as many teams prepare to kick-off their first-ever season without fans in stadiums. Many are balancing shifts between long term planning and the pivot to the short term as a result of the pandemic. With the return to play for many teams this weekend, new ideas have emerged re means for generating revenue, evolving the fan experience, and more. We cannot underestimate the amount of planning and coordination that each of our panelists has been involved in to execute strategies for opening day amidst the pandemic and map a blueprint for how we need to operate venues differently for the future.
Throughout the session, they shared different examples demonstrating how they used the latest technology innovations to provide the best fan experience and create opportunities for continued growth and improvements. Everyone agreed the latest innovation “waves” have come at exactly the right moment helping to provide clear outcomes with ROI, crediting 5G and WiFi-6, IP Switching for media production, IoT, and digital signage.
Skarpi opened the discussion to reflect on how they prepared for SoFi to open under three conditions: no fans, partial fans, and a full house. They planned for the experiences they wanted their guests to have regardless of the pandemic. One thing that didn’t change was the critical role of mobility and mobile devices for fans going forward. For digital, no-touch ticketing, frictionless transactions on point of sale, etc. “These were all things we had planned. We are in pretty good shape no matter what the future state is going to be. As fans come back- it is not going to look like what it did before the pandemic. That operational impact is what we are preparing for.”
Derrick emphasized that Cox’s planning and execution for one of the most tech-advanced stadiums in the NFL did not veer from starting on day one. Cox worked closely with Cisco to design and structure a robust network that delivered on The Raiders’ vision for the epic fan experience. One that embodied the spirit, and the history and the culture of The Raiders. He also pointed out that it is not enough to have all the right technology in place. “Cox implemented a NOC-as-a-service, a 24/7 monitoring service to monitor all the technology and equipment pieces in the building to ensure reliability and redundancy. With more than 1800+ Wi-Fi access points and 40 Gigs of technology coming over 277 miles of fiber distribution you want to make sure it is executed flawlessly.”
Matt explained that they were already considering a cashless venue early on, and the pandemic emphasized the importance of things like contactless payments, contactless ticket entry, mobile tickets, etc. “When you build a $2 Billion building in 31 months there are a lot of tasks to manage. We were prepared to open. We are disappointed not to host 65,000 fans on day one – but we see it as a big opportunity to further refine our game day presentation to give the fans the best possible experience we can.” He said they are operating these events as if fans were in the building, using all Cisco Vision screens during the games to present it in the way they would with a full house. He and his team then walk around as operators and see it, refine it, and enhance it to be the best it can be.
Steve talked about the importance of 5G for sports and entertainment venues, reminding that 5G is more than a step up from 4G: It is all about bandwidth and latency, with 10X faster speeds. It can handle more than a million devices in a square kilometer…which is critical in stadiums and venues with so many phones in the same space. “5G will open up a new ecosystem of apps, to enable new use cases and things we haven’t thought possible yet to create the epic fan experience- whether they are sitting in the stadium or sitting on their couch. 5G and edge compute offer the ability to take components out of the devices or wired areas and place them at the edge to scale a wide variety of capabilities.”
I left the session inspired by the leadership and vision of these gentlemen, and how they are using technology to deliver a fan experience that’s immersive, safe, and personalized as we look to mobile and virtual experiences to carry us from watching at home or on the go, to when we return to stadiums in person.
I recommend you take time to watch and listen to the whole session here (easy to watch and follow along I promise) for more specifics on what is making a difference and what to expect. Great stuff.
For more information visit our Cisco Sports & Entertainment page.