How Texas A&M Designed a Stadium for Millennials
AUGUST 4, 2016 • BY JENNIFER GOFORTH GREGORY, HPE MATTER CONTRIBUTOR • BLOG POST
IN THIS ARTICLE
- Students are more connected to their devices than ever before
- After an IT upgrade, Texas A&M’s football stadium has the network capacity to go above and beyond the expectations of this digital generation
Texas A&M’s IT network architect shares how technology enhances the Aggies fan experience at the stadium
At the library, in the dorms and anywhere on campus, Texas A&M students can post a picture to Snapchat, video chat with their significant others back home or send an email to their teacher. The campus-wide coverage and fast throughput of the school’s Aruba (a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company) wireless network made accessing the Internet something students simply took for granted. That is, until they walked into Kyle Field to watch the Aggies play a home game. Due to Kyle Field’s virtually nonexistent wireless network at the time, students were pretty much cut off from the way that they typically interacted and communicated with the world. Not only did this frustrate both current and former students, but the university was also losing out on the opportunity to engage with them during games. Creating a technology-rich environment primarily for students and recent grads who have never known life without the Internet has required the university to completely reenvision the role of technology and wireless in the stadium.
“We joke that if our students could rewrite the Declaration of Independence, then right up there with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, they would add Wi-Fi,” says Matthew Almand, IT network architect for the Texas A&M University system. When Texas A&M began a two-phase stadium upgrade that involved adding more fan seating (including premium seats), it was the ideal time to install a brand new network. Based on research and an exceptional experience with Aruba for its campus network, the university decided to install an Aruba wireless network at Kyle Field. Over 1,200 Aruba access points (APs) were installed throughout the stadium and 700 in the bowl, with the majority of APs under the seats, and some overhead as needed. Fans never miss a play—from any game As part of the stadium’s technology system, the university partnered with its IPTV solution to include streaming on the team app. Fans choose between different replays and camera angles so they can see for themselves if the player stepped out of bounds or was offside. “Our fans also love that the app has a television function, so you can sit in the stands of Kyle Field and also be watching another team play on your phone while you root for the Aggies,” says Almand. “[...] You can livestream it, and we really have that throughput and that capability and that RF coverage to handle all that load and capacity.” The university is also planning on relaunching a text notification system that allows fans to notify personnel if someone was injured in the stands or a restroom needs cleaning. Almand says that they previously used text messaging for this type of communication but had to suspend the service because the cellular service was so unreliable. “Our new network allows this service to be host neutral, and we don’t have to worry if it is iMessage or SMS, says Almand. “Whether the message goes across Wi-Fi or DAS, it is going to be lightning-fast and the university will get the message from the fans.” “Our goal was to make Kyle Field the best collegiate sports venue in the United States, period. Those are easy words to say, but actually hard to accomplish,” continues Almand. “We wanted to enable an exceptional fan experience, and technology is the basis for that.” Future plans for beacons, in-seat ordering and social media engagement Now that the university has a network with high throughput, the next step is figuring out how to leverage this technology to engage fans and increase stadium efficiency. Increasing social media engagement with real-time polls and best game-day photos is in the works. The robust network also now allows vendors to offer dynamic concession updates based on inventory, such as removing sold-out items from the menu and reducing prices on excess food to reduce waste. As a longer term project, the university is seriously considering integrating beacon and location-based services into the stadium, which would allow fans to easily find their seats as well as ensure quicker responses during emergencies. In-seat ordering, which allows fans to have food and drinks delivered directly to their seats, is also on the horizon. “Texas A&M knows that we have an extremely special and powerful wireless solution at Kyle Field that is good, if not better, than the venues of recent Super Bowls,” says Almand. “We are poised to do some really special things with our network that positively impact every aspect of game day.”