What's Your IT Game Day? Glenn Johnson: VP Technology, Carolina Hurricanes

Glenn Johnson / Carolina Hurricanes and PNC Arena

Glenn Johnson is the Vice President of Technology for the Carolina Hurricanes and PNC Arena. PNC Arena, located in Raleigh, North Carolina, is home to professional National Hockey League team the Carolina Hurricanes, as well as the men’s basketball team from North Carolina State University, part of NCAA’s Division I college athletics. In addition to sporting events, the PNC Arena hosts roughly 150 other events, conferences, and concert per year.

I chatted with Glenn about his unique technology goals and challenges, and how IT solutions are a critical part of Carolina Hurricanes & PNC Arena’s ‘game day’ playbook.

I would love to hear more about the PNC Arena, specifically what IT challenges have you experienced, and how you have overcome them through strategic technology?

We have approximately 490 APs installed in our building. We faced some challenges with the overhead deployment of the access points, but that has matured over time. We’ve gotten better at tuning the access points, realizing where we had shortcomings, and taking actions to try to address those shortcomings, whether it was adding APs or increasing signal strength. The biggest driver in teaming up with Extreme was to optimize our high-density Wi-Fi solution, which has been a challenge for us for years. We have multiple network configurations for our arena because we host basketball games, hockey games, and various other events. Those concerts can be anything from in-the-round concerts where the stage is in the middle of the floor, to a 180 show where it’s only half the area. We must be able to tweak and make changes to Wi-Fi on the fly and make sure the patrons in the different areas are getting the coverage that they need based off the unique characteristics of the event.

It sounds like Wi-Fi has played an integral role in IT success at the arena. Are there any other ways you're utilizing the Wi-Fi to deliver a better in-venue experience for guests?

We’ve been completely digital with our ticketing all season. Every hockey game and many concerts have gone digital. The Wi-Fi’s been solid in supporting this initiative, which has been fantastic because we work with Ticketmaster and they said years ago, “Wi-Fi is your thing”. It’s critical to have a reliable system to enable digital transformation at the arena.

Another project we rolled out this season, which we wouldn’t have been able to do before we had the Wi-Fi in place, is deploying a new point-of-sale system for concerts. In the past, we took terminals that had been used in our team store and put those at different locations around the arena. With Wi-Fi as stable as it is in our building now, we took 30 iPads with Bluetooth, chip-enabled readers and were able to deploy those anywhere in the building. They’re iPads running an app from our provider Shopify and they’ve been rock-solid. We’ve not only been able to increase the number of POS locations we have in the building from 6-8 to 30, but we’ve also been able to cut down on fraud and individuals trying to take advantage of our inability to take chip cards.

The original purpose for installing Extreme Wi-Fi was for the game-day experience. For the longest time it was a nicety for people to have Wi-Fi when they came to a venue. We’ve gone past the point where it’s the expected amenity. If you don’t have it now, it’s a huge negative, and could hurt the fan or guest experience.

Great point Glenn! Nowadays connectivity is seen as a utility, especially for a sports and entertainment venue. Are you seeing differences in how people engage over Wi-Fi when they’re at a Hurricanes game versus an NC State Basketball game versus a concert?

No, it’s really predictable. We have an NC State Basketball game and our take rate is around 30-35%, and hockey games are seeing around 35-40% which is very predictable. Concerts, it’s hit or miss. We keep details and statistics on all different events. It depends on the patrons, the type of event, and whether it lends itself to those types of individuals that are going to look for the Wi-Fi to connect.

From a future perspective, is there anything IT-specific you’re thinking about implementing as it pertains to the in-venue experience at PNC Arena?

Yeah, we’re looking to do a lot of different things. The obvious stuff is refreshing the system. The system is four years old and any Wi-Fi system needs to be revisited every four to five years to make sure you’re getting the type of usage on the system that you’d expect. We’re looking to make the move to Wi-Fi 6 to support more patrons in the dense environment that we have. We’d love to add additional APs, create smaller coverage areas, get fewer users per AP, and in turn improve the patron experience.

Those are the types of things I would like to look to as we move forward. We want to ensure we’re continuing to offer the connectivity and frictionless environment for our patrons. Our biggest competitors aren’t the other NHL teams, but Netflix, Amazon, and all the reasons individuals stay home as opposed to coming to a live sporting venue.

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