Wi-Fi at the heart of the New England Patriots’ fan experience

Wi-Fi and a ‘Game Day’ mobile app give Patriots fans a powerful in-stadium experience

Since buying the New England Patriots, Robert Kraft has strived not only to have the team be consistently one of the best teams in the league, but also to provide the best fan experience. Based on their track record, it appears the organization has been a smashing success in both areas. 

The foundation of the digital fan experience is the stadium’s Wi-Fi network, powered by Extreme Networks, which hosted hosted a CIO Mobility Summit Sept. 21 at Gillette Stadium, home of four-time Super Bowl champions. 

At the summit, Jonathan Kraft, president of the team and son of Robert Kraft, said the Patriots started looking at providing a best-in-class Wi-Fi experience for its season ticket holders in the club area in 2009. The Wi-Fi was so well received that in 2012 the Patriots decided to roll out Wi-Fi to all 68,000 seats in the “bowl,” as Kraft referred to it. The deployment started with 300 wireless APs but has recently been expanded to over 1,100 802.11 AC Wave 2 APs.

+ Also on Network World: Tech boosts the fan experience at U.S. Bank Stadium +

Initially, the Wi-Fi provided connectivity for fans to browse the internet and post pictures and videos to social media. Since then, the Patriots have rolled out its own “Game Day” application. The mobile app lets fans scroll back to any point in the game and view any play from one of six proprietary camera angles. The Patriots also rely on ExtremeAnalytics (formerly known as Purview) to understand what fans are doing while on the network. 

Kraft assured the audience that the data is being collected solely for the purpose of understanding how to improve the fan experience and not for any other purposes. In fact, the Wi-Fi is completely open with no sign-in process in order to keep the activity anonymous.

Kraft also said he wanted the in-stadium experience to be digitally as good as, or better than, what you have at home. I personally prefer football on TV versus live because the TV networks have done a fantastic job pushing whatever information one might need to make the game better.

That is what the Patriots are looking at now.

Adding augmented reality to the in-stadium experience

For example, at home the networks superimpose a yellow line on the field at the first down marker, which makes seeing if a player crosses it very simple. Fans in the seats don’t have that luxury. The Patriots are looking at adding augmented reality (AR) where a fan could view the field through his mobile device and see the virtual yellow line on the field. 

Another proposed idea is to be able to hold the phone up over a player and have that player’s name and stats shown in the screen. Fantasy football fans could quickly scan the field, find players on their team and instantly know their stats. 

The digitization of the world has been well documented with companies such as Tesla, Uber and AirBnb disrupting their markets. From an NFL fan perspective, it’s great to see a team like the Patriots that sells out every game not rest solely on the success of the team to provide a differentiated experience. The digital experience has become huge part of entertainment, and I applaud the team for pushing the envelope as to what’s possible.

My only criticism of the Patriots, and NFL in general, is that the in-stadium app and connected experience seems to vary widely from venue to venue. If I’m fan and have access to certain features at one stadium, it’s reasonable to expect it at all of the stadiums. But for now, the Patriots appear to be setting the standard for excellence on the field as well as in the stands.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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