Inside the San Francisco 49ers innovative sports stadium … digitalising the fan experience

September 13, 2016

Levi’s Stadium is about 40 miles south of San Francisco in Santa Clara, California. It seats more than 65,000 spectators in two bowl-like structures. The logistics are daunting for a stadium that big. Consider the issues involved with getting thousands of fans to their seats quickly and securely in time to enjoy the game.

  • Parking—Purchasing parking passes digitally and providing turn-by-turn directions to the visitor’s assigned lot
  • Navigation—Helping fans quickly and easily find their seats
  • Security—Mitigating risks and enabling fans to be the eyes and ears of the stadium and report any security issues that may occur.
  • Refreshments—Ensuring fans get the food and beverages they want, when they want them.

Digital technologies such as beacons, IoT sensors and sophisticated mobile apps have elevated the experience for 49ers fans and changed the game for venue operators.

In an interview for The Future of Business and Tech, 49ers chief operating officer, Al Guido, shared how Levi’s Stadium creates an elite mobile experience for fans.

How is Levi’s Stadium changing the way fans think about the stadium experience?

The Bay Area is a consistent leader in innovation. As an organization, we felt that if we were going to deliver a premiere outdoor sports and entertainment venue befitting of this region then we had to incorporate groundbreaking in-stadium technology. We focused on designing a stadium that combines the the comforts of home while providing a forum to connect around 70,000 people in real time. Levi’s Stadium utilizes the best technology found in Silicon Valley to enable our fans to create their own experience for any event at the venue.

What tech feature has been a fan favorite in the stadium so far?

The technological element of Levi’s Stadium that has most enhanced the experience of every guest who has visited the venue is its Internet infrastructure. It is the most extensive in all of professional sports, featuring an Internet bandwidth four times the NFL standard; it is the backbone on which the Levi’s Stadium App delivers fan services like no other venue. The Levi’s Stadium App enables all event goers to use their phone as their ticket and parking pass, to pre-order food and beverages for delivery or express pick-up and to watch multi-angle replays on their personal mobile device.

What is the infrastructure for delivering wireless to fans in a stadium the size of Levi’s?

The Levi’s Stadium network infrastructure features over 400 miles of data and more than 12,000 physical network ports. Levi’s Stadium truly became an innovator among professional sports venues when the decision was made to make the stadium the first in the world to install Internet access-points under seats throughout the venue—a total of more than 1,200, or one for every 100 seats. The 49ers IT team and a host of partners designed the unique network infrastructure, and those same groups continue to work together on-site to monitor and manage the system on a daily basis, not just event days.

Are you making any changes to be ready to host next year’s Super Bowl?

Our team of IT professionals and partners are the best in the business at building and refining Internet infrastructures, something they’ve proven over the course of our first year of operation at Levi’s Stadium. We are continually making enhancements to our Wi-Fi and cellular network systems inside the venue, and we’ll certainly have Super Bowl 50 in mind during those efforts the rest of this year. That said, an event like WrestleMania 31 setting a stadium Wi-Fi record by offloading 4.5 terabytes of data provides confidence that our network will also succesfully handle the network needs of Super Bowl 50.

Levi’s Stadium isn’t just a venue for football. How does the wireless network accommodate the different mobile communications needs of various events, such as concerts?

Every event we host at Levi’s Stadium will have some unique elements, and the way our wireless network is used is no different. Our guests will always make up the majority of wireless users and we have to always deliver for their needs. Whether it’s being able to quickly send and receive text messages while among nearly 70,000 fellow spectators, or using the revolutionary Levi’s Stadium App to order food and beverage to your seat anywhere in the stadium, the stadium’s Internet bandwidth of 40 Gigabits per second enhances fan experience like no other venue in the world.

How does the wireless network support new technologies such as LTE Advanced or others that will be introduced into the marketplace soon?

Instead of focusing on outfitting Levi’s Stadium with expensive hardware that will become obsolete over time, our decision was to leverage the brilliant companies who create the personal mobile devices like tablets and smartphones that our customers use to manage their busy lives. The hardware that we have installed in the stadium—cable, network ports and access points—can be upgraded and enhanced to support any new technological advances and new products that our fans might use to maximize their experience at Levi’s Stadium.

How does energy-efficient infrastructure play a role in Levi’s Stadium?

It was crucial that the technology in Levi’s Stadium be functional and not at all ornamental. To ensure that, we implemented impactful innovations within the venue. We focused on the areas of fan experience and sustainable design. Levi’s Stadium was the first stadium in North America designed to be net nuetral to the power grid. That means that—thanks to the 1,162 photovoltaic panels incoporated into the design of the venue—the 10 regularly scheduled 49ers home games each year are powered by the sun. It was important to us to try to be leaders in sustainable design.

Mobile application features

A robust wireless infrastructure is key for providing other features that ensure the ultimate fan experience. Todd Landry, corporate vice president of product and market strategy at JMA Wireless tells us more about a few more available features at Levi’s Stadium are:

  • Access to tickets purchased for games.
  • Guide fans to the parking lot entrance closest to their seats and then to the exact location of their seats.
  •  Watch up to four replays during the game or read about interesting stats or other information related to the game.
  • Direct fans to the closest restroom or concession stands with the shortest lines.
  • Participate in Faithful 49, a fan engagement program where fans are rewarded with free food, merchandise or special 49ers experiences.

Connectivity beyond the venue

Levi’s Stadium is already the most connected sports venue in the NFL. However, wireless technologies are being expanded even further in preparation for Super Bowl 50, which will be held at Levi’s. Now fans in the surrounding area outside the stadium will enjoy powerful cellular connectivity thanks to a dedicated DAS. Many of these fans will never enter the stadium at game time, but will still be able to enjoy the powerful experience of the big game day.

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