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Patriots’ Season Preview: Wi-Fi Edition

Ryan Hall Manager, Vertical Solutions Marketing Published 21 Sep 2018

The start of the ’18-’19 NFL season is here, meaning all the related components have geared up for an exciting year – from the players and the coaches, to the team’s personnel and staff, to the physical stadium and its supporting functions.  This includes the in-stadium technologies helping to power a quality fan experience on game day.  Given fan expectations around connectivity, Wi-Fi is now an integral part of this experience with nearly all NFL teams providing some degree of guest-facing Wi-Fi.

The New England Patriots certainly understand the importance of delivering connectivity to their fans: they were one of the first teams to successfully deploy a comprehensive in-stadium Wi-Fi solution, and they upgraded their network prior to the ’17 NFL season.  With the start of another optimistic Patriots and their fans, let’s break down some Wi-Fi highlights and numbers from last year at Gillette Stadium, the team’s home field and multi-use venue in Foxboro, Massachusetts.

Network Recap: Wi-Fi Stats from Gillette Stadium

With the upgraded and fully functional network deployed at Gillette Stadium, the Patriots’ average Wi-Fi usage numbers saw an impressive jump from the ’16 to the ’17 NFL seasons.  Average number of concurrent connected Wi-Fi users increased from 29,500 in ’16 to over 40,000 in ’17, with the average network throughput increasing from 2,300 in ’16 to over 5,400 in ’17.

From an application usage standpoint, many of the fan-facing apps one would expect to see were consistent from season to season, but let’s take a look at how the numbers stacked up:

Top Social Media Apps by Client Count:

  • Facebook
  • Snapchat
  • Twitter

Top Social Media Apps by Bandwidth:

  • Snapchat
  • Facebook
  • Twitter

Top Sports Apps by Client Count:

  • ESPN
  • Yahoo Sports
  • NFL
  • Patriots Football

Whether you’re involved in sports technology or not, many of the ‘top applications’ should not come as any great surprise as they reflect the more popular applications consumers engage with every day.  Last year’s top performing social platforms by client count were Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter.  From a bandwidth usage standpoint, Snapchat comes in at the top, which makes sense as Snapchat predominately uses video (a medium with higher bandwidth demands) as a form of communication, a fan engagement trend that’s apparent in other stadiums and arenas as well.

Specific to sports applications, ESPN and Yahoo Sports are also not surprising given the popularity of fantasy football; it’s safe to assume a high percentage of fans in attendance at a football game will also enjoy playing fantasy football.  Of course, you have the Patriots team app rounding out the list. More on this platform below. 

“It’s extremely helpful for us to have insight into how people are using the Wi-Fi at Gillette Stadium. For instance, beyond the obvious platforms, we learned that a good number of our fans are using dating apps when they’re at a game. Having that type of knowledge opens up opportunities,” says Fred Kirsch, the Patriots Publisher and VP of Content.

Top ‘Network Performance’ Moments at Gillette Stadium

Similar to how every organization and their venue can reflect on the most captivating ‘moments’ during the year, the same can be done through the lens of technology by exploring the peak events from a network performance perspective.      

Here are the Top Three Network Moments at Gillette Stadium last year in chronological order, with their respective network performance metrics.

NFL Opening Night & Hanging of Super Bowl LI Banner: September 7th 2017

  • Data Transferred: 8.08 TBs
  • Peak Throughput: 11.01 Gbps
  • Peak Wi-Fi Clients: 33,909
  • Unique Wi-Fi: 41,377 

As the official kickoff to the season the NFL’s Opening Night is always a prominent event, but the excitement of this game was compounded with the unveiling of the Patriots’ Super Bowl LI banner. Subsequently this was also one of the more impressive events in terms of network usage.  Over 41K fans connected to the Wi-Fi network during the course of the game (about 60% of those in attendance), transferring over 8TBs of data, making this one of the more connected events at Gillette Stadium to that point.      

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AFC Championship Game: Patriots vs. Jaguars: January 21st 2018

  • Data Transferred: 8.53 TB
  • Peak Throughput: 6.3 Gbps
  • Peak Wi-Fi Clients: 37,115 
  • Unique Wi-Fi: 43,020

Arguably the most exciting event at the other end of the NFL season for Gillette Stadium was the AFC Championship Game, where the Patriots squared off against the Jacksonville Jaguars.  A nail-biting game until the last possession, the Patriots earned a victory and another trip to the Super Bowl.  The fan-generated network traffic certainly mirrored the activity on the field, as a total of 8.53TBs of data was transferred over Wi-Fi from over 43K unique clients.    

T-Swift Concert: July 27th 2018

  • Data Transferred: 9.76 TB
  • Peak Throughput: 10.7 Gbps
  • Peak Wi-Fi Clients: 27,376
  • Unique Wi-Fi Clients: 35,760

While Gillette Stadium is home to the New England Patriots, NFL games are not the only events hosted at the venue.  Similar to many professional sports venues, a number of entertainment acts, concerts, and non-football sporting events populate Gillette’s annual calendar.  These events provide a unique opportunity to understand how different events and the users they attract impact the network.  It isn’t rare for a headlining concert to produce massive amounts of Wi-Fi activity.  The Taylor Swift concert this summer was no exception, and may be one of the top-performing events from a network perspective at Gillette Stadium to-date.  In total, over 35K unique Wi-Fi users accessed the network during the event, with peak Wi-Fi usage exceed 27K users.  From a data throughput perspective, the network peaked at 10.7 Gbps; total data transferred across Wi-Fi was nearly 10 TB, at 9.76 TB total.        

Patriots’ Tech Preview: ’18 – ’19 NFL Season

On the field, the New England Patriots are certainly slated to compete for another playoff berth and potentially another Super Bowl championship, but what can fans expect in the stands from a technology perspective?

Coming off its strongest year from a connectivity and usage perspective, the Wi-Fi network is fully prepared to deliver another impressive season during game days at Gillette Stadium. Prior to the start of the season, the Patriots conduct a comprehensive ‘network health-check,’ where Wi-Fi engineers fine-tune the system to ensure it is fully optimized entering the regular season, enabling fans with a quality mobile experience and the ability to access all their favorite apps, social media platforms and team-centric content and offerings.

The Patriots team app and the Gillette Stadium venue app will also be available for download, which includes integration with paperless tickets, a variety of specialized team content and player information, access to instant replays, among a number of additional areas to explore.  Of course, the Patriots team of in-stadium Wi-Fi Coaches will also be present this season, ensuring that fans experiencing any questions or challenges have readily available mobile experts to help them out.  

“For the 2018 season, we are making a big push towards mobile ticketing. That means reliable Wi-Fi will be critical for those fans that have not already downloaded their tickets to their digital wallet and are accessing them via our apps. It’s also a huge advantage to have the Wi-Fi coaches ready and available to fans who have tech questions related to Wi-Fi, their phones or our apps.”

Fred Kirsch Publisher and VP of Content, New England Patriots

While the entire Patriots organization and their fans have high hopes for another Super Bowl-contending season, regardless of how the performance unfolds on the field, the experience in the stands at Gillette Stadium will undoubtedly continue to be one of the best the NFL has to offer, especially from a mobile and connectivity perspective.

To learn more about how the New England Patriots approach Wi-Fi, leverage technology to enhance the fan experience, or Extreme Networks, explore the resources below:

**All photos courtesy of the New England Patriots, David Silverman, and Jim Mahoney***

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