Every Sunday, more than 65,000 fans show up to Gillette Stadium waiting for the next exciting moment in New England Patriots franchise history. The organization has built a best-in-class winning legacy and are known for their precision, finesse and preparation. They’re always ready to gain a competitive advantage. That’s the mentality of the Kraft Group, the holding company of the New England Patriots, New England Revolution sports teams and manufacturing groups such as Rand Whitney, Rand Whitney Containerboard, International Forest Products LLC, New Indy Containerboard, Unified2 Packaging Group, Gillette Stadium and retail operation Patriot Place.
In 2012, the organization was ready to make another leap. They made a big bet on Wi-Fi – moving it out of the suites and into the entire bowl at Gillette Stadium, with a vision to completely change the way fans experience the game. Winning on the field wasn’t enough. They were determined to find new ways to win big off the field and in the stands. For an organization that had built its legacy on a series of some of sports most defining moments, this new approach to fan-facing Wi-Fi was born from a series of strategic investments and calculated risks.
In 2012, the New England Patriots began a 10-year partnership with Extreme Networks. The goal: provide high-density Wi-Fi to every guest at Gillette Stadium.
Yet, given the size and scope of the stadium, there were many challenges in building a Wi-Fi network that could simultaneously support 65,000 fans. The plan was to first deliver content via the stadium app, updating fans on player stats, providing original short form content about the team and more. But the longer-term was much bigger. Like everything else they do, the Patriots wanted to set the standard of what “great” connectivity looks like in the stadium and once that was achieved, the options were endless.
“You think of all the great moments that Patriots history, it's always better to have been there than to have watched it on TV. So, if you can marry that excitement with the creature comforts that you have at home, that changed everything in terms of what was possible on game day.” –Fred Kirsch, Publisher and VP of Content, Kraft Sports Group
While the New England Patriots compete with other teams on the field each week, teams across the league are collaborating on new ways to enrich the fan experience while at the game. The real competition is with the experience a fan has at home.
Initially, the Wi-Fi Fan experience was an experimental service reserved for club members. They received exclusive perks like additional camera angles of the action or digital souvenirs from the game. Having learned though the pilot that Wi-Fi is an enabler of the fan experience, it became the data the Kraft Sports Group needed to go full scale and take on the bowl. There were many experiments along the way. Some succeeded and fed the next great innovation and others failed and were chalked up as a learning experience.
It starts on arrival, in the parking lot. Wi-Fi is extended beyond the bowl, in the concourses, through the walkways, down to the turnstiles that provide entry into the experience. Having gone completely digital for ticketing, it’s the moment that sets the tone for the fan experience for the rest of the day.
In football and in life, it’s about getting the small things right, and what seems like insignificant successes, like a working digital ticket, compounds into major successes, like shorter lines, faster access to seats. Advances in mobile ordering means buying food and picking it up when it’s ready versus waiting in line and missing a pivotal catch on a go-ahead touchdown. None of that is possible without Wi-Fi as the backbone.
“I think there will come a time where people are wearing for example glasses that give you them stats who's on the field, you know the type of next gen stats that you know you can get on your phone now, you'll be able to get it while you're got a beer in one hand and a hotdog in the other.” –Fred Kirsch, Publisher and VP of Content, Kraft Sports Group
The fan experience is about bearing personal witness to greatness, and you can’t do that waiting in line. That’s why the Kraft Group has worked diligently to leverage Wi-Fi to limit time away from the seat and always keep fans connected to the action.
Getting the fan experience right isn’t just about mobile applications. There’s a symphony of movement happening behind the scenes operationally that’s just as important to the fan experience and just as reliant on Wi-Fi.
Similar to a football play, where 11 specialized players must move in unison to meet an objective, creating the seamless fan experience requires a seamless staff experience as well. That’s why Kraft Group employees are connected as soon as they arrive on the stadium grounds. The tools they use also are connected to Wi-Fi, and that reliable, connected experience is just as necessary to them as it is to the fans’.
“When our employees get off of a shuttle bus, they're able to jump on the Wi Fi network to clock in to hit our employee applications for checking purposes. And then over half of our point-of-sale terminals are attached to the Wi Fi network, which expands our reach profoundly.” – Michael Israel, CIO, The Kraft Group
The ability to extend one’s reach is the transformational impact that Wi-Fi has had. And it’s important to note that guests and employees alike rely on the same wireless network to successfully interact across the nearly 2 million square feet of Gillette Stadium.
Delivering the optimal fan experience consistently, game after game, requires measurement and analytics. The Kraft Group relies on these tools to measure not only how the Wi-Fi network is handling the demands of a full bowl at an event, but also how they can respond to the data and develop findings that lead to better decisions moving forward.
“Through the use of analytics, we can see from heat maps we can see if guests are shifting and then if we need to shift staff accordingly, we can deal with that real time. With the deployment of Wi-Fi 6, our throughput has increased our performance has increased. We're able to extend further out with our offerings primarily because we've extended the reach of Wi Fi we've extended where we want to connect to where we want guests to be able to connect to.” – Michael Israel, CIO, The Kraft Group
Following any football game and you’ll find players back at team headquarters in conference rooms studying game film, reviewing what happened on the field. Where were the gaps in the defense? What were the missed opportunities? How can tendencies be exploited next time? The same is true for evaluating the stadium experience after the lights have shut off and the fans have returned home.
Analysis of fan behavior, however innocuous, can, from time to time, lead to profound discoveries. These discoveries then lead to the creation of new, proactive services that create novel experiences that drive fans back to the stadium, again and again. Perhaps autonomous purchasing at concession stands gave way to automatic beer pouring, a real feature of the fan experience at Gillette Stadium!
A more pragmatic way analytics have been used to bolster the fan experience is to develop bathroom wait times. Fans have access to wait times for the five bathrooms nearest to their seat. Understanding movement patterns in concourses and where mobile devices sit in queue helps fans select their best path to relief and shortens the time away from the event.
“When you have a concert like Taylor Swift, which, unlike football, is mostly female. So now we convert a lot of the bathrooms from men to women. So probably 75% of the bathrooms are for women during a Taylor Swift concert, and just knowing where the lines are or was really helpful for fans. Having, Wi-Fi and having digital offerings really allows you to adapt from event to event.” –Fred Kirsch, Publisher and VP of Content, Kraft Sports Group
It's been said, “Knowledge is power,” and the learnings about fan behavior through the use of Wi-Fi analytics has enabled the Kraft Group to deliver powerful experiences to each guest who passes their turnstiles.
Success at Gillette Stadium and insights gained from analytics of the fan experience feeds into strategy across the entire Kraft Group, the parent company of the Kraft Sports Group. For some of the other businesses under their management, success on Sunday means more efficient manufacturing Monday through Friday.
“We have manufacturing facilities throughout the Northeast. They all use Extreme Wi-Fi for a variety of purposes. From our forklift monitoring, to virtual warehousing, to employee interaction, to monitoring where trucks are in our facilities and monitoring where they are moving in and about in our facilities, to wherever we can extend the reaches of our traditional network, we use Extreme Wi-Fi.” – Michael Israel, CIO, The Kraft Group
It stands to reason that the benefits of understanding the flow of people in a stadium would inform better ways to move raw materials through a factory. Understanding where bottlenecks are at a concession stand might produce methods that would be beneficial for manufacturing and vice versa. A reliable Wi-Fi network across tens of thousands of people means less threat of operational downtime where lost time equals lost revenue. These practical applications of how one solution might apply in a different industry and the new business opportunities it can foster through analytics is the type of ingenuity that has become the hallmark of the Kraft Group and its affiliated companies.
10 years ago, Wi-Fi at Gillette Stadium was just an experiment, and Extreme Networks wasn’t the only vendor that provided Wi-Fi equipment to the market, but the Kraft Sports Group chose Extreme not only for its skill at architecting high-density wireless networks, but also because of the intangibles that matter after the network has been installed.
“That's what we look for here at the Kraft group with any of our vendors. We like to go into business with them. And I'm just proud to know that we were the first NFL team that Extreme did Wi-Fi with and now look what they're doing with all the other sports. I feel proud that we were together from the beginning. I love seeing the growth that they've had and they've become the sort of Cadillac of Wi-Fi experiences for sports.” –Fred Kirsch, Publisher and VP of Content, Kraft Sports Group
The Roman philosopher Seneca famously said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” While it may have taken a little luck for their big bets to pay off, it’s the meticulous planning and drive for excellence that has made the fan experience at Gillette stadium the gold standard for sports.
For more than 10 years, alongside the Kraft Sports Group and its affiliates, Extreme has been proud to aid in Gillette Stadium’s digital transformation, the evolution of technology in sports and the extension of Wi-Fi into new industries.
Developing industry-leading Wi-Fi, delivering real-time performance analytics and taking a genuine interest in customers’ businesses is what differentiates relationships from transactions, denotes partners from providers and separates Extreme from the competition. If you want more from your vendor than their price list, consider Extreme.