As part of our IT ‘Game Day’ series, we sat down with Frank Juarez, CTO of Auxiliary Services with the University of Southern California, whose responsibilities include overseeing the technology implementation at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, a multi-event historical Stadium owned by the City of Los Angeles and managed and operated by USC. We discussed the extensive renovation, and how Frank and his team used the opportunity to improve the in-stadium mobile and digital experience with a purpose-built Wi-Fi solution.
To get started, could you describe the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum: the business, and the physical environment of the actual facility?
Sure, the Coliseum was built in 1923 as a memorial to the Los Angeles veterans of WWI, so our venue is almost 100 years old. We’re in our 97th year of operations now and are looking forward to having our centennial celebration. There’s a rich history of events at the Coliseum, that includes hosting two Super Bowls, one World Series, two Olympics, and the third Olympics is scheduled for 2028. It has been home to three NFL teams, one MLB team, and two NCAA football teams. The Coliseum currently hosts USC football and has been the temporary home of the NFL Los Angeles Rams while their stadium is being built. Despite its rich history, USC began looking at other options to play football in 2013, due to the lack of upgrades and amenities. However, USC signed a lease to operate the venue in 2013 and in 2018 we undertook a $330 million project to renovate the Coliseum, with the construction of a seven-story scholarship tower and the refresh of many amenities and attributes at the Coliseum. The renovation took seating capacity down from 97,000 to approximately 77,500, but with the drop in capacity came a set of new premium areas which brought greater revenue opportunities.
High-density Wi-Fi was a technology you were considering as part of the plans. Can you talk a little about the process, like the high-level business drivers for deploying Wi-Fi and any challenges you might have faced in the process?
From an IT perspective, there are a fair amount of challenges. The Coliseum was designated as a national historical landmark in 1984, so there were historical aspects of the venue that couldn’t be altered- like the Bowl, the look of the Peristyle Plaza, and the exterior walls of the venue. As you can imagine it made for a difficult implementation plan and created a challenge for the overall design, more specifically the Wi-Fi. We have approximately 1300 access points that were implemented in the Bowl, the tower, and some of the other areas. There was a desire to implement a converged network to run data, voice, and video services. In addition, there was a goal to provide pervasive Wi-Fi to improve the overall customer experience at the stadium. The initial plan was to just have Wi-Fi in the tower and in the bowl, yet after additional consideration, we decided to include the yard, the concourse, and the gate levels.
That’s great. While we’re on the topic of challenges, you spoke about the history and size of the stadium. What unique design and deployment challenges did the Coliseum provide?
The venue is 97 years old, so the foundation, infrastructure, and power grids were all a challenge to work with. For the switches and firewalls, it was difficult with some of the spaces that weren’t intended to house these types of solutions. For example, many of our RDF’s were open-air, resulting in dust and other contaminants to become a problem. Retrofitting these spaces with controlled environments that would enable us to operate the network was a challenge. In addition, there are different teams that have different responsibilities and we had to make sure the technologies and spaces were operating correctly. There was a great deal of education that was conducted to manage vendors and sometimes we had to dictate their direction in order to keep our overall goals intact.
You touched upon the solutions deployed during renovations. Considering you have a newly-implemented system, were there any rising technology trends that compelled USC to deploy the solutions?
Yes, absolutely. USC uses a paper ticket and we don’t have a game day application, so there was a certain amount of frustration with the customer base, especially our student body. Now that we’ve rolled out pervasive Wi-Fi, there’s great opportunity to build upon that and take advantage of things like creating a mobile app. We are exploring the opportunities of utilizing a mobile ticketing system for USC football moving forward.
With having a newer system and being early to this process, do you have any thoughts around the number of users and consumptions, or is it too early to make any correlations yet?
We have one season’s worth of data, but the results are interesting. I’ve only seen a slight difference between the National Football League and the collegiate environment. Our Rams fans follow the technology trends, while the college is lagging a little behind. We didn’t publicize our Wi-Fi network initially because we didn’t want to be overwhelmed, but the fans discovered it on their own, and the numbers are close.
Given USC’s younger set of demographics, including the students’ needs and requirements on game day, do you think there is a greater demand to incorporate new solutions?
Yes, we ran a proof of concept to offer the student section because they are a different demographic and a different use case than our traditional customer base. In the college space and USC, our main core bases are older, comprised of donors and alumni. As for the students, the biggest application in use was Snapchat. The current challenge we face is how to best leverage the social media load in order to achieve our revenue goals.
Speaking of data findings, have you begun to look at any data to get a sense of baseline of your environment? If so, is there anything that sticks out from your side of things specific to your environment?
It’s interesting to me that both our NFL and our college team were very similar in the usage and in the applications. Just like we’re undertaking our technical evolution, our marketing team is going through a transformation on digital marketing and this certainly feeds into it. My efforts now are to define a set of reports that the team can use to build a digital marketing platform initiative. We use Fox for our sponsorships, and they’re very interested. They’ve become early adopters for the data and there’s a real appetite for it. I’m looking forward to building our analytic platform out.
What were some key takeaways that you came away with from the IT portion of the implementation process?
Identifying the key IT stakeholders and ensuring the project teams clearly understood our role was key. It was important to name and task our IT stakeholders early and make sure they had clearly defined responsibilities like IT change approval, issue resolution, schedule approval, etc. Ensuring that all project technical document was delivered, adequate knowledge transfer and training is accounted for, particularly around the management of the network. With our infrastructure we want to make sure we manage our change so that it’s audible and traceable.
Any future initiative you want to speak to, Frank?
A lot of new things at once, like mobile CRM for point of sales, dynamic digital signage, new cameras, operator controls, all kinds of stuff! For the immediate future, optimizing and taking advantage of the new technologies is key. Beyond that, we want to utilize the customer analytics and the Extreme reporting capabilities. We have a lot of smart students in the USC business and engineering schools, so I’m reaching out to them in hopes they could potentially work with their classes to assist us with some extraction, transformation, and definition of data structures from reports and dashboards. My hope is to leverage our engineering school to help us kick start and knock out some low hanging fruit and some quick wins.
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