How the NFL and Extreme Networks Advance the Fan Experience

Mike Lytle Director, Stadium & Venue Premier Services Published 21 Sep 2021

Relentless Measurement in a Game of Inches 

On September 20, 2021, Extreme announced that it has extended its relationship with the NFL as the Official Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi analytics provider through 2025.  While Wi-Fi may feel like a commodity to many, why is this distinction as the Official Provider so special to Extreme? More importantly, why did they choose Extreme out of a bevy of other players in the market? Because the NFL inherently understands the importance of the fan experience – and Wi-Fi is one of the key enablers to make that experience a reality in a stadium full of tens of thousands of fans.  

It’s been famously said, “Football is a game of inches,” and nowhere is that more apparent than in the NFL. This is a league where the transformation of data into insights is not only part of the organizational culture, but also often the difference between winning and losing. The more a given team knows about its opponent’s athletes, their tendencies, strengths and weaknesses, the better prepared a team can be on gameday. It’s this relentless pursuit of data collection and its use that has made Extreme Networks and the NFL perfect partners for advancing the fan experience.  

Advancing the Fan Experience – Wi-Fi is the Backbone 

Every Sunday, millions of fans around the world watch their favorite teams compete for a shot at the Vince Lombardi trophy, the award given to the winners of the league’s championship, the Super Bowl. However, while exciting action is taking place on the field, another battle rages between the fan experience in the stadium and the fan experience at home.  As the price of home entertainment systems have gone down and the ease of watching the game from one’s sofa has gone up, the NFL and its franchises must create a unique experience for fans that encourages them to brave traffic and weather to see the game live.  

Depending on the last time you’ve watched a game live, the in-stadium experience for fans has seen dramatic improvements over the past 10 years.  Today, NFL stadium apps give fans access to resources like they’ve never had before. 

Mobile Ticketing 

An important way to prevent fraud, loss, and theft, mobile ticketing has helped accelerate entry into venues. By simply pulling up a QR Code or barcode from their stadium application, fans can confidently enter the turnstiles at the gate with without friction. As they approach the stadium, the network can detect devices and offer dedicated bandwidth for their applications to ensure that there are no delays due to overloaded cellular networks caused by thousands of people converging on the facility.  

Guest Assistance 

Once inside, access to stadium information can become available – a necessity as stadiums take a leap into becoming massive centers of entertainment. These apps can make it easy to navigate the labyrinthine corridors and stairways of the stadium allowing fans maps to concessions, restrooms, or even waypoint directions to the fan’s seat.  Some venues are even experimenting mobile concessions, experiences in the Pro Shop or even educational activities in stadium museums leveraging technologies like augmented reality and location-based services. 

Exclusive Video 

While at their seats, these applications can provide fans on-demand replays and unique camera angles so they can have control of the action and watch one-handed catches in slow motion or double-check a referee on a critical play.  All of it is delivered over the network in seamless, highdefinition video. 

Sports Betting 

As sports betting becomes more normalized, it only makes sense that fans will want to access these services that add a new dimension to their enjoyment while they are at the game. With a wide variety of games to play and wagers that could be madedaily fantasy operators and sports books connections to fans will only grow and become more commonplace. 

Managing HighDensity Networks 

Much like a well-designed football play, the key to a successful fan experience is all in execution. What each of these amenities have in common is that they all rely on a robust, high-density Wi-Fi network. This network is the foundation of the fan experience.  It reaches the fan at the gate, follows them to their seat and watches over them throughout the entire game. 

It’s a huge challenge because every fan is unique. They come from a wide variety of backgrounds, their mobile devices are different models in various states of disrepair with a spectrum of operating systems versions installed, and all they want is to connect to the network, download an app, and share their excitement with their friends through messaging services or through social media. 

What complicates this even further is that stadiums are monuments to the gods of football made of concrete, steel and glass. This isn’t the friendliest environment for providing strong radio signals, so a stadium might have to ensure connectivity across hundreds or even thousands of access points scattered all over the venue. Ensuring always-on availability and real-time visibility has proven itself a nightmare. 

Still, the network has to work, every time, for 60,000-80,000 fans, for 3 to 4 hours or more, each Sunday, in stadiums all over the United States. Failure to deliver that reliable, consistent experience could result in fans choosing the comfort of their recliner over the chorus of tens of thousands of their fellow fans. 

The network has to work for employees too, everyone who works behind the scenes to serve visitors and care for their safety and satisfaction.  They must also be able to connect and communicate with each other to mitigate risks and handle emergencies as they arise. 

The network has to work for the teams as well. Watching a game, it’s common to see blue, NFL branded tablet devices passing from coach to player as they watch video from the last series.  While in many cases, this network is different from the guest network, it demonstrates how important connectivity is to every aspect of the gameday experience and the NFL, alongside stadium operators, is responsible for it all. 

Delivering Extreme Wi-Fi Network Analytics 

Since 2012, Extreme Networks has been working with the NFL and many of its franchises to capture Wi-Fi analytics to uncover data insights that help the league benchmark network performance at the stadium and learn what its fans are doing during the game. By monitoring network resources and understanding fan behavior during the game, the league and its franchises can enrich the fan experience in ways that were previously unconsidered.  

Real-time Network Data 

The key to providing an enriched fan experience starts with data collection and analysis. With the help of Extreme Networks, the NFL and its franchises are able to tap into the traffic in real time and measure performance and application usage data.  This is aggregate data, individual guest identities and seat location aren’t available, but around the stadium, section by section, the league can better understand what’s happening during the game based on network use.  

analytics dashboard

Some of the data that can be collected are: 

  • how many unique devices have been on the network during an event 
  • how may concurrent devices are using the network at one time 
  • how much data has been transferred (uploaded and downloaded) across the Wi-Fi network 
  • how much network bandwidth is being utilized and when the peak utilization happened 
  • top applications being used by fans 
  • applications that are using the most bandwidth and when 

The best part is that the NFL can view all of this information in a vendor-agnostic environment.  Each franchise may choose the vendor of their choice to provide network hardwareExtreme Networks can monitor and report what’s happening in real-time no matter the brand of the access point.  This delivers incredible flexibility to the league. 

From Fan Behavior to Unique Experiences 

With analytics in place, the teams learned that fans would frequently log on to ESPN or Yahoo after touchdowns to check their fantasy football stats.  The stadiums prefer the fans spend their time on their stadium app, so based on data, many stadiums have integrated fantasy football stats into their own applications for all games happening around the league. 

But that’s not all.  Some stadiums have even provided fans using their application free access to NFL RedZone, a service that serves up replays of every touchdown and field goal happening in real time. Fans can not only watch their hometown heroes score in-person, but they can also see replays of their fantasy athletes scoring, as well.  All of this is only available on the stadium Wi-Fi, and with analytics, the league can monitor how many fans are taking advantage of the service and fine tune it as necessary. 

Upgrading to Analytics 2.0 

The needs of the NFL and fans are constantly evolving, so the capabilities of network monitoring and analysis must improve as well.  Rolling out around the league are new features that make it easier to tell the story of a fan’s experience based on network and application usage. 

Some of the newest features include: 

  • An improved interface that allows different departments to see customizable views of data.  This means marketing teams can see dashboards focused on the mix of applications a person uses during the game while network operators can watch bandwidth spikes and manage quality of service. 
  • Access to locationbased data and its network traffic informationbased reporting of aggregated data.  Now the NFL can see if fans are accessing Facebook from the concourse or from their section of the stadium.  While this doesn’t provide personally identifiable information, it does give the league an idea of what people do at their seats or if they’re losing time while in line for concessions. 
  • Connections to cloud APIs that could improve services like digital ticketing.  With the new updates to the applicationstadium operators can take 3rd party API or other data inputs to create custom views for network administrators to take action proactively before a problem that could impact the fan experience is reported. 

Curating the Ultimate Fan Experience 

While a visit to the stadium for a regular season game is a treat for many fans, attending the Super Bowl in person is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  Fans frame ticket stubs, wear souvenirs decades after their attendance at the event and regale their family and friends about that time they went to the big game.  Today, social media makes this experience sharable in real-time heightening the need for a solid network that can serve every visitor the bandwidth they need to record their reactions for posterity. 

Since Super Bowl XLVIII (48)the NFL has been using Extreme Analytics to keep a watchful eye over the network during the game to ensure it and critical applications are healthy and performing well. That way, when an amazing play happens, fans all over the stadium can share it with the world seamlessly. 

What’s eye opening about the fan experience is not only the percentage of fans that use the Wi-Fi network but how much data they transfer over it at big events. During Super Bowl LV (55), an event where attendance was limited to approximately 25,000 fans, 80% of the attendees connected to Wi-Fi and produced nearly 14 terabytes of data, or almost 600 megabytes per device. The previous year at Super Bowl LIV (54)fans produced 26 terabytes of data, nearly twice the data of the US Library of Congress. If you’d like to see more facts about the network traffic generated during this year’s Super Bowl, see this infographic for some surprising statistics. 

Beginning a New Season 

As the 2021-2022 NFL season kicks off, Extreme Networks is excited to partner with the NFL to help advance the fan experience as more guests return to stadiums after a tumultuous 2020.  And when they arrive, we’ll be ready and waiting to help enhance their experience as they cheer their teams to victory.   Learn more about the NFL’s relationship with Extreme Networks by viewing the press release. 

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