The digital revolution is making its impact with the Atlanta Braves, and the team is hoping to score a home run with its digital, interactive fan experience at SunTrust Park.
The new stadium opened in April 2017, and Cisco was an important player designing the tech behind the 41,500-seat SunTrust Park. The stadium is part of a 1.5-million-square-foot mixed-use retail and office development known as the Battery Atlanta.
The crown jewel is the Cisco network used at SunTrust Park and Battery Atlanta, according to Greg Gatti, CIO for the Atlanta Braves.
"We wanted the best Wi-Fi experience of any venue in North America," he said. The stadium has 200GB of internet bandwidth, and an advanced Wi-Fi design that gives connectivity anywhere in the stadium or the Battery Atlanta.
SEE: Digital Transformation: A CXO's Guide (A ZDNet and TechRepublic special report)
The stadium needed impressive connectivity to keep fans coming to games.
Since 2012, attendance has been slowly declining at MLB games, with fewer fans opting to navigate the traffic around stadiums and paying high ticket prices to see their favorite teams.
In 2007, the highest-attended year in the history of the league, 79.5 million fans attended regular-season games. In 2012, this had dropped to 74.9 million and by 2017, it had dropped further to 72.7 million, according to Forbes.
Bringing in new tech and fan experiences as part of a digital transformation is a way to renew interest in this traditional American pastime.
Fans expect connectivity
"I think fans [have] very high expectations when they come to your venues these days, especially with professional sports. I think it really comes from our devices. If you think about what you can do with your device these days, pretty much everything, you used to have to have a PC or a laptop, four, five, six, seven years ago. You can do all that on your device now," Gatti said.
In the past, fans downloaded more content, but now the trend is more uploads as video streaming and photos are being posted to social media during games and events.
"If you come to SunTrust Park, we'll give you all the bandwidth that your device can handle with no restrictions," Gatti said.
One network concept
Gatti and his team worked with Cisco to develop the "one network concept" to make Wi-Fi faster and the experience seamless for fans.
Gatti explained the process during a session at Cisco Live 2018: "In the past, in stadiums, what you would do is you would build your back of house network. The team would run that. Then you let all your third parties do their own thing. Your food and beverage provider, they build their own network. Building controls, all those kind of things. Parking. Retail. Those would all be separate, physical networks. Even a lot of times, as clubs did Wi-Fi, that was still a separate network."
"We did our one network concept. We wanted everything to run on our networks. We would have to have full visibility. We could ensure it was secure, and then to scale, that it was available. That was something that we did innovative, and Cisco was a big part of that, because, of course, we needed their assistance to design that. They did the design for the entire one network concept," he said.
One of the surprises was that the technology was expected to generate revenue. "Being honest, a guy in IT like me, I'm used to spending money, I'm not used to being responsible to make money," Gatti said. "There's an expectation that the IT spend of 12.5% of the entire project budget for SunTrust Park and Battery Atlanta was for technology. There was definitely the expectation that we were going to be a revenue generator."
Cisco Vision provided the revenue needed to justify the technology, Gatti said. "That has become a seven-figure a year, new revenue stream for the Atlanta Braves."
"We have a little over 1,350 screens throughout SunTrust Park and Battery Atlanta, and Cisco Vision powers all those," he said. Cisco Vision also powers the ad network on the screens, and on 15 kiosks throughout Battery Atlanta.
Keeping the network secure
Security was also a crucial component. Gatti said he met with his director of IT infrastructure to discuss security. "The words we used were, 'we want to add a psychotic approach to security.' We don't mean that in a negative way. It was just that important to us. So, security was top of mind."
"One of the things seen, is while on the security side, it that convergence that you're beginning starting to see between cyber security and physical security. A lot of physical security threats are technology focused. We have 6,000 people that walk through SunTrust Park in the Battery Atlanta in a year. That's 6,000 people that are going to see wireless access points, cameras, or a variety of other things. Ensuring that that environment is secure was definitely, extremely important to us," Gatti said.
A simplified network means a smaller IT team is needed to manage it.
"I've got 18 people in IT, and I'm one of the largest IT shops in Major League Baseball, with 18 folks. I've got a 10,000 plus core network, 1,250 plus access points, 1,350 plus TVs. That's a whole lot of technology to support," Gatti said.
The future of baseball
There are more tech upgrades needed before every MLB stadium can support the Wi-Fi that fans demand.
"Like any other industry you have folks that aren't that committed to technology. You have a large group of mainstream folks, and then you have some forward thinking folks. A lot of the forward thinking folks have come to see us. That's the Dodgers, the Red Sox, Indians, Giants and us I would probably put in the five of those real forward thinking professional baseball teams," Gatti said.
"I think we've been a good model to a lot of other teams and we've collaborated. Even last week I had a call with the new CTO from USTA Tennis, because they're realizing too, 'Okay, that fan expectation is going up.' They feel they're behind from a technology standpoint.... [and] everyone kept telling him to talk to the Braves. That was a real compliment to not just to me, but to our team and our partners and what we've accomplished together at Sun Trust Park and the Battery Atlanta," Gatti said.
- Atlanta Braves team up with Comcast to bring 100 Gbps to new ballpark (TechRepublic)
- Field of digital dreams: Why MLB is betting its future on big data, Wi-Fi, apps, and AR (TechRepublic)
- Baseball pitches augmented reality to catch fans (CNET)
- Chicago's Wrigley Field targets 2018 for high-density Wi-Fi as part of $750M in ballpark upgrades (TechRepublic)
- How the NFL and its stadiums became leaders in Wi-Fi, monetizing apps, and customer experience (TechRepublic free PDF download)
- IT leader's guide to achieving digital transformation (Tech Pro Research)
- Photos: Sports stadiums go digital (TechRepublic)
Teena Maddox is a Senior Writer at TechRepublic, covering hardware devices, IoT, smart cities and wearables. She ties together the style and substance of tech. Teena has spent 20-plus years writing business and features for publications including People, W and Women's Wear Daily.