The newest professional sports stadium opens next week in Atlanta, and it's filled with new tech to improve the fan experience as a result of the team's partnership with IBM.
There's a new stadium in town, if your town is Atlanta. The Atlanta Falcons football team and Atlanta United soccer team have a new home—the glass-encased Mercedes-Benz stadium that is located next to their former home in the Georgia Dome.
The new stadium uses IBM Cloud as the basis of a converged network with more than 4,000 miles of fiber on a passive optical network to support IoT-connected systems throughout the building. The 71,000-seat stadium has 90 miles of audio cabling and nearly 2,000 wireless access points for Wi-Fi connectivity.
The stadium includes a 360-degree, 63,000-square-foot HD Video Halo Board and more than 2,000 video displays throughout the building. The IT infrastructure is the heart and brain to the immense video presence within the stadium. "What I think people are going to really be blown away by in this stadium is when they walk in and see the video capability," said Roger Hasson, general manager, IBM Services. "There is the 63,000-square-foot paneless screen. There are columns of video that will be all along the walls. You have TVs everywhere. I believe this will be second to none in the sports industry."
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IBM built a test lab near the stadium as it was being constructed so that all of the equipment could be thoroughly tested before installation. Now that the stadium is complete, the lab has been disassembled.
Improved fan experience
Fans at the August 26, 2017 pre-season NFL exhibition game between the Falcons and the Arizona Cardinals will be among the first to experience the stadium, which includes a new IBM fan experience application delivered via the IBM Cloud.
Shannon Miller, IBM Digital and iX practice lead, said that his team developed the stadium's app to deliver a new experience for fans of both the Falcons and the United soccer team. It will provide services, including team info such as stats and near real-time highlights, as well as the ability to pay for parking in advance, with point-to-point directions to help fans find the location of their reserved parking spot when they arrive. Fans will also be able to use the app to buy tickets, and determining transportation options, whether they're taking public transit or using Lyft to get a ride. The app includes wayfinding so that fans can find anything they need within the stadium.
"If you think about what's going on from the digital perspective, the digital invention that's happening across the industry right now, technology is just as important as the concrete in the stadium," Miller said. "You need that technology integration as well because we as fans, me being one of them, I have the same expectations here as I have when I interact with Amazon or Starbucks or any other great experience that I have. Parking, entry points, wayfinding inside the stadium. All those things were designed to reduce friction and make an easier and simpler experience for the fans when they get here."
The days are gone when a team could build a stadium and expect fans to come without adding any bells and whistles in the form of high-tech options.
"We have to have an amazing technology infrastructure, a connectivity, and all the things that you need to bring that to life. If you don't have that, then we don't meet the expectation of the fans. From the building standpoint, how does the technology plan support the fan experience? It's not even an option anymore, it's an imperative," Miller said.
Michael Compitello, director of IBM Global Sports and Entertainment Practice, said, "This is the technology we can only experience when you come to the stadium itself. It will get people out of their homes, off their couches, and into the stadium."
Fiber instead of copper means energy savings
There's also a sustainability angle, with power and cooling savings to lower the carbon footprint while increasing operational efficiency.
"In the core data center, on the network there, we replaced switches virtually instead of having hundreds and hundreds of ethernet switches. It came down to three paths of optical network OLP controllers that are all on one rack. There's several hundred racks in the data center, but instead of having hundreds of switches of normal copper ethernet, we were able to use that converged network to make it simplified. We were able to save the Falcons space by reducing the number of wiring closets and provide them more space for some of the strategic areas," Compitello said.
By reducing the number of wiring closets, and therefore reducing the amount of switching equipment, it saved up to 30% of the normal power usage. With copper ethernet you can go only 300 feet, but with fiber you can go 12 miles without a switch, he said.
The stadium also houses a neutral host distributed antenna system (DAS) and all four major carriers—AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile—have signed on to it. This means that fans will have the option of using their cellular service with plenty of connectivity, or switch to the stadium's Wi-Fi.
The top 3 takeaways for TechRepublic readers
- The new Mercedes-Benz stadium in Atlanta uses IBM Cloud as the basis of a converged network with more than 4,000 miles of fiber on a passive optical network.
- The 71,000-seat stadium has 90 miles of audio cabling and nearly 2,000 wireless access points for Wi-Fi connectivity.
- The new stadium includes a 360-degree, 63,000-square-foot HD Video Halo Board and more than 2,000 video displays throughout the building.
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- How Tottenham Hotspur is building the intelligent stadium of the future (ZDNet)
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