Better Stadium Wi-Fi Improves the College Sports Fan Experience
Most fan devices entering a stadium or arena can stay connected through cellular networks. But even in 2023, large numbers of devices can overwhelm those networks, especially on campuses in more rural areas. So, first and foremost, providing a reliable, free in-stadium Wi-Fi connection keeps fans connected before, during and after the game, something nearly everyone demands in every setting in today’s world. Not being connected can leave fans with a poor impression regardless of the game’s outcome.
Beyond that connection, though, robust Wi-Fi networks can help colleges and universities take the fan experience to the next level. Modern stadiums use giant video boards to give fans a chance to interact, among other things. Some universities will allow fans to share photos that can be displayed on the big board, answer trivia questions or even vote in polls to determine what song gets played next, all in the spirit of fan engagement.
Network connectivity also can give fans more time to spend in their seats. Mobile ticketing gets fans in the gates more quickly, mobile food ordering eliminates long wait times at concession stands and cashless payment at those stands and in stadium gift shops keeps fans from missing any of the action.
Fans connecting to in-stadium Wi-Fi networks also give university officials an opportunity to track and understand their behavior. If long lines are forming at one concession stand and not another, for example, stadium operations staff can promote areas with shorter wait times or adjust staffing levels. Likewise, contextual data can show where fans congregate during games and what they purchase, giving marketing and operations staff insights that could help them make smarter decisions.
What Technology Is Needed to Improve Stadium Wi-Fi?
Stadiums can be complex and challenging areas to equip with up-to-date networking equipment. The significant amount of concrete and metal can cause problems for wireless signals, and the sheer amount of space that must be covered — including parking lots, upper-level suites and field-level seating — requires some creative solutions.
The CDW higher education team has helped a number of universities with these types of projects, and our experience has taught us some valuable lessons.
There’s having a wish list for stadium improvements, and then there’s the reality of the work that must be done. As with any major project, the flashy, fan-facing elements are exciting, but with every upgrade comes a potential infrastructure project that could involve getting into the walls of sometimes very old stadiums. In addition, multiple access points may need to be added throughout the stadium to ensure coverage in every seat, something that can be challenging closer to the playing surface and farther from walls and ceilings of the concourse.
Beyond infrastructure, security is a concern anytime new access points and new networking power come in. An assessment from the CDW higher education team can reveal potential vulnerabilities in a stadium’s network, something that’s especially important if it is to be connected to the broader campus network, where more consequential student and research data could be housed.
Storage shouldn’t be ignored either, whether that means more cloud space or additional on-premises solutions. Every animated scoreboard flourish, highlight package and instant replay must be housed somewhere, and it must run lag-free on the video board.
This article is part of EdTech: Focus on Higher Education’s UniversITy blog series.