SoFi Stadium is the new home of the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers.
Image: Los Angeles Rams

About 16,000 fans were in the building for the first NFL game of the 2020 season last night in Kansas City, but when most teams kick off on Sunday, their stadiums will be empty due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Each NFL team is working under different local rules when it comes to allowing fans into stadiums, but the officials behind two of the newest-built stadiums, Allegiant Stadium in Paradise, NV, and the Rams’ SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles, are particularly saddened by the inability to have a full house considering the bevy of technology they built into both venues.

The billion-dollar stadiums have been decked out with 5G, Wi-Fi 6, IP Switching for media production, digital signage, edge computing, and thousands of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, all designed to provide a seamless fan experience that may not be fully taken advantage of this year.

In a media call organized by Cisco, SoFi Stadium CTO Skarpi Hedinsson, Las Vegas Raiders vice president of technology Matt Pasco, Cox Communications Vice President Derrick Hill, and Verizon Business VP Steve Szabo joined together for a discussion on the technology that has been woven into both stadiums and what will be done until fans are allowed inside.

Allegiant Stadium, the new home of the Las Vegas Raiders.
Image: Las Vegas Raiders

“When you build a $2 Billion building in 31 months, there are a lot of tasks to manage,” Pasco said. “We were prepared to open. We’re all disappointed that we’re not going to be packing 65,000 fans into our building on day one, but out of that comes an opportunity, and the opportunity is to really refine our show and refine our game-day presentation to give the fans the best possible game-day experience they can have.”

“We needed to make the tech seamless, integrated into the fan experience and intuitive so that it just works. Wi-Fi 6 has been huge because the capabilities are perfect for a stadium environment. You’ve got a ton of people in a small location that need to get on, do their business and get off the network. We want people engaged with what’s going on on the field and not sitting in their seat looking at their phone waiting for something to load. A seamless and intuitive experience was one of our goals.”

One of the things the COVID-19 pandemic forced the technology teams behind both Allegiant Stadium and SoFi Stadium to prioritize is touchless features.

Pasco said originally the team was reluctant to make Allegiant Stadium a cashless venue but the dynamics of the pandemic made it important for fans to be able to use things like contactless payment, contactless ticket entry, and mobile tickets.

Hedinsson said that the minds behind SoFi Stadium were planning for three different scenarios involving a small number of fans, no fans, and full house. But no matter how many people are allowed in at the start, Hedinsson said that like Allegiant Stadium, they wanted to outfit the venue with digital ticketing, no-touch, frictionless transactions at point-of-sale devices.

“These were all things we had planned. We are in pretty good shape no matter what the future state is going to be,” Hedinsson said. “As fans come back–it is not going to look like what it did before the pandemic. That operational impact is what we are preparing for.”

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Hill noted that Cox worked closely with Cisco to design and build a network that provided fans with the kind of experience the Raiders were hoping to provide, with dozens of screens and entertainment tools.

He explained that in addition to helping build out the network, at least two people will be onsite at Allegiant Stadium managing security and other systems.

“Cox implemented a NOC-as-a-service, a 24/7 monitoring service to monitor all the technology and equipment pieces in the building to ensure reliability and redundancy,” he said. “With more than 1,800+ Wi-Fi access points and 40 gigs of technology coming over 277 miles of fiber distribution, you want to make sure it is executed flawlessly.”

Despite the lack of fans, Pasco said the stadium will run as if fans are there and they plan to use all of Allegiant Stadium’s massive new screens during the first game there on Sept. 21.

Verizon’s Szabo noted that 5G will be incredibly important to the stadium and to handling the thousands of fans who will eventually take seats in the stadium.

With 5G, thousands of fans and stadium officials will have more bandwidth and latency to take advantage of, and it can help the venue handle more than a million devices in a square kilometer.

5G will also help with dozens of other things, Szabo said, like computer vision, analytics and machine learning as well as a “360” feature where fans in their seats can get a view of the game from another part of the stadium.

“Your fan experience doesn’t start when you get to your seat. Your fan experience starts when you’re packing for your tailgate and when you’re trying to figure out where you are parking that day,” Szabo said.

Coaches and announcers will also be able to have analytics in real time as well as the ability to collect stats and offer insights, something that could not have been done years ago.

Hedinsson noted that 5G and “robust” wireless access will be “in every nook and cranny of the stadium,” providing fans with a seamless experience at SoFi Stadium. 5G was also necessary for the uncompressed, 4K video that is needed for the video boards.

SEE: 5 Internet of Things (IoT) innovations (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Every stream of uncompressed 4K HDR video is 12 gigabits a second, he said, and in the stadium they will have thousands of those streams flowing at any given movement.

“5G will open up a new ecosystem of apps, to enable new use cases and things we haven’t thought possible yet to create the epic fan experience–whether they are sitting in the stadium or sitting on their couch,” Szabo said.

“5G and edge compute offer the ability to take components out of the devices or wired areas and place them at the edge to scale a wide variety of capabilities.”