Field of Wi-Fi dreams: Delivering network solutions to Major Leagues and preserving ballpark history

Extreme Networks is set to deliver new Wi-Fi networks to 16 MLB stadiums. Building a network in a century-old stadium like Fenway Park comes with unique challenges.

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Image: Boston Red Sox

Major League Baseball spring training games are set to start later this month, and new in-stadium network solutions could enhance gameday viewing for fans. On Wednesday, Extreme Networks announced that it was selected as Major League Baseball's official Wi-Fi provider to deliver stadium Wi-Fi and analytics starting in the upcoming 2021 season.

"Major League Baseball is a pioneer in using technology to advance how fans interact with the sport. Extreme's industry-leading solutions, which leverage state-of-the-art cloud, mobility and analytics capabilities, will help the league, its teams, and fans connect data, devices and people together in the most effortless manner possible," said Ed Meyercord, president and CEO at Extreme Networks.

"As lifelong baseball fans, we are privileged to support Major League Baseball in its relentless effort to provide data-driven, next-level experiences at every game," Meyercord said.

These solutions will allow fans to connect to faster Wi-Fi networks in the stadium to support "bandwidth-hungry applications" during baseball games and allow sports analysts to access snappier multimedia updates, the release said. On the venue side, the company said these networks will allow the staff to use connectivity, analytics, and telemetry information to enhance guest support and decrease operational risks.

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Extreme Networks is deploying these network solutions in 16 ballparks with installations slated through 2026. Each of these stadiums presents a unique set of challenges. As Wes Durow, CMO at Extreme Networks, explained, there's not a singular approach to these stadium deployments because no two ballparks are alike.

Durow said each project is a "custom experience" as optimal throughput will need to account for the design and idiosyncrasies of each ballpark whether it's steel beams or other structural elements. Incorporating these solutions is comparatively easier at newer ballparks compared with older facilities, said Dan Brown, director of client relationship and service delivery, MLB, at Extreme Networks.

"The challenges lie in adding new access points and cable pathways to these older ballparks. Many of the older parks' lower seating bowls are either on grade or partially on grade. This does not provide significant access for cable pathways," Brown said.

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Image: Boston Red Sox

Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, is the first stadium set to receive these renovations. Deploying a network solution in a baseball park built more than a century ago comes with no shortage of challenges.

"Fenway has many years of concrete overpour (additions) to various areas of the park going back to 1912. Concrete and construction was very different back then. Where cores are used to create a cable pathway, we include architectural engineers and extensive design reviews to ensure ballpark structural integrity is up to spec," Brown said.

Whether it's a century-old baseball stadium with decades of tradition or a newer sports venue, these ballparks also maintain historical and sentimental value for fans and local communities. Brown said measures are taken to preserve historical elements during network deployments.

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"All locations in the park have gone through the Historical Society approval. Although the replacement locations have been pre-approved from existing deployments, our new locations require an updated approval," Brown said. "This approval goes in front of a review board and requires [detailed] spec sheets and designs."

Brown provided a scenario-specific example to detail efforts implemented to maintain the historical integrity of these ballparks. At Fenway Park, for example, the company is not allowed to mount on certain portions of steel or any brick and works around these elements to deliver an "optimal design," Brown said.

"Every park is unique and poses its own challenges. Having a knowledgeable team for both the technology and constructability aspects of the solution is key to a successful deployment," Brown said.

"The partnership being built with MLB and the teams has helped to create a great working relationship and a focus on delivering the best technology that in the end will benefit MLB, the teams, and most importantly the fans!"

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