49ers Bet on Technology to Boost Fan Experience

Silicon Valley NFL stadium promises to be hi-tech showcase for ‘smart’ features.

Hoping to reverse a 5-season attendance slump, the National Football League is looking to “smart” features to help get fans off the sofa and into the stadium. Renovations of older venues incorporate hi-tech features and new facilities such as the San Francisco 49ers’ future home now under construction in Silicon Valley are packed with technology from the start.

New San Francisco 49ers Stadium Field

The stadium's head of construction estimates that 60 percent of fans inside the San Francisco 49ers' new stadium in Santa Clara could be simultaneously connected to personal devices during a game. Photo courtesy of San Francisco 49ers.

“We’re dealing with the home experience being so good we need to find ways for fans to come to the games,” said Brian McCarthy, the NFL’s director of communications. “Fans are sitting on comfortable couches while watching games on state-of-the-art TVs, but the at-home experience isn’t as exciting as being there in person. The question is how do we arm the fans with the best in-stadium experience?”

Jack Hill believes the next milestone for fan experience is being built right now on 15 acres in Santa Clara, Calif. The head of stadium construction said the new 49ers facility will be “a showcase” of technology.

“Our goal is to be the new benchmark for the NFL,” said Hill, who considers the league’s two newest stadiums, MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., home of New York’s Giants and Jets, and Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, a prior project of his, to be the current standard bearers.

Both Hill and the stadium’s architect said fans will enjoy unsurpassed connectivity at the new venue.

“The fiber backbone will be very robust so that any present or future technology will be connected,” said Lanson Nichols, principal project manager with HNTB Architecture, the design firm behind MetLife Stadium and dozens of other major sports venues. “The telecom data rooms will be 25 to 30 percent larger than at any other NFL stadium and the rooms will be spread on different levels no more than 150 feet apart.”

Fans’ mounting expectations for technology and the stadium’s location are at the forefront of the builders’ minds.

New San Francisco 49ers Stadium Champions Club

State-of-the-art monitors will help keep fans from missing a down regardless of whether they are in their seat, the common areas or in one of the exclusive areas, such as the Champions Club as rendered here. Photo courtesy of San Francisco 49ers.

“Technology doesn’t change any faster than in Silicon Valley,” Nichols said with no argument from Hill.

“Infrastructure is very important when more and more fans are on smartphones, and the smartphones, themselves are constantly getting smarter,” said Hill. “Our team is working on a distributed-antenna system (DAS) so that fans who want to take pictures, videos, text someone across the seating bowl or email their buddies at home won’t be frustrated.”

Hill said that right now 20 to 30 percent of fans are using personal technology in venues around the league. That percentage is likely to increase by 2014 and perhaps climb even higher at the 49ers’ new stadium considering its tech-centric locale.

“I’d say 50 to 60 percent would be a safe answer,” Hill said. “We’ll be in the heart of Silicon Valley and even today a lot of our fans are from tech companies, and they want to use their devices and have a good fan experience.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell singled out technology as a key to tackling an attendance drop that saw crowds down 4.5 percent from 2007 to 2011, and only two-thirds of the league’s 32 teams sell out their 2012 home opening game.

In line with the league’s push to meet fan expectations, 49er President Gideon Yu promised at a press conference that the new stadium would be “the ultimate integration of technology and live sports to our fans.”

Although Hill wouldn’t disclose how much of the $1.2 billion project is devoted to technology, he did say that “it’s a big chunk and it’s safe to say it’s more than anyone has spent before.”

New San Francisco 49ers Stadium Exterior

Builders of the San Francisco 49ers' future stadium in Santa Clara promise unsurpassed connectivity as among its technology features. Photo courtesy of San Francisco 49ers.

“We want every new stadium to be the smartest stadium, and led by [49er CEO] Jed York, the new Santa Clara stadium, particularly because where it’s located, will no doubt be that,” said McCarthy of the NFL.

Hill acknowledged that a stadium located in the heart of Silicon Valley could benefit by having the likes of Intel, Apple, HP, Google and Oracle as neighbors. “One of the nice things about the Bay Area is you have such a wide array of technology partners to work with.”

The NFL has league-wide standards for instant replay and camera angles as well as telecommunications for coaching and medical staffs, yet doesn’t explicitly regulate in-stadium technology according to McCarthy. “But we do push teams,” he said.

One recent result of that pushing is an agreement that every stadium will provide free Wi-Fi by the 2013 season. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the first team do so and offered free wireless Internet in Raymond James Stadium at this season’s home opener.

“The good thing about the NFL is that while the teams are very competitive, we all share best practices,” McCarthy said. “We have meetings about the latest the teams are doing on technology just as coaches will have meetings about games.”

“Sharing information is how we’ve become the best,” he added. “You need all 32 teams working for the best experience and with the newer generation of stadiums there’s an arms race to build the most unique experience for the fans, but it’s about refurbishing older stadiums, too.”

The 49ers new stadium is being built to meet the tech needs of 2014 and beyond, but until then the team must appease connected fans at the NFL’s second-oldest stadium. Candlestick Park opened in 1960 and the venue has undergone many technical upgrades since it became the 49ers home in 1971.

The most recent is a distributed-antenna system to improve 4G LTE coverage. The team also created an app supported by an in-stadium network that makes camera feeds from inside Candlestick available to fans.

Other teams offer fans similar apps and real-time highlights from every game in the league available via NFL Red Zone. Many older stadiums have upgraded video monitors above the field and in concession areas, and this season fans attending games are shown the same replay that referees view under the hood.

“Looking ahead, under consideration is having selected players mic’d in some fashion for exclusive in-stadium audio,” McCarthy said.

Those who prefer not to call, text, tweet, Facebook, view or capture photos and video, check their fantasy team or order garlic fries from their iPhone haven’t been overlooked amid all the efforts to integrate hi-tech offerings.

“We’re considering a wide range of tech advances to meet the fans’ desire to be connected — that is, if they want it,” McCarthy said. “It could be the 3 to 4 hours not to be connected to a device. They want the more social aspect of being at a game with tens of thousands of other fans and get away from their technology.”

49ers Bet on Technology to Boost Fan Experience

Silicon Valley NFL stadium promises to be hi-tech showcase for ‘smart’ features.

Hoping to reverse a 5-season attendance slump, the National Football League is looking to “smart” features to help get fans off the sofa and into the stadium. Renovations of older venues incorporate hi-tech features and new facilities such as the San Francisco 49ers’ future home now under construction in Silicon Valley are packed with technology from the start.

New San Francisco 49ers Stadium Field

The stadium's head of construction estimates that 60 percent of fans inside the San Francisco 49ers' new stadium in Santa Clara could be simultaneously connected to personal devices during a game. Photo courtesy of San Francisco 49ers.

“We’re dealing with the home experience being so good we need to find ways for fans to come to the games,” said Brian McCarthy, the NFL’s director of communications. “Fans are sitting on comfortable couches while watching games on state-of-the-art TVs, but the at-home experience isn’t as exciting as being there in person. The question is how do we arm the fans with the best in-stadium experience?”

Jack Hill believes the next milestone for fan experience is being built right now on 15 acres in Santa Clara, Calif. The head of stadium construction said the new 49ers facility will be “a showcase” of technology.

“Our goal is to be the new benchmark for the NFL,” said Hill, who considers the league’s two newest stadiums, MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., home of New York’s Giants and Jets, and Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, a prior project of his, to be the current standard bearers.

Both Hill and the stadium’s architect said fans will enjoy unsurpassed connectivity at the new venue.

“The fiber backbone will be very robust so that any present or future technology will be connected,” said Lanson Nichols, principal project manager with HNTB Architecture, the design firm behind MetLife Stadium and dozens of other major sports venues. “The telecom data rooms will be 25 to 30 percent larger than at any other NFL stadium and the rooms will be spread on different levels no more than 150 feet apart.”

Fans’ mounting expectations for technology and the stadium’s location are at the forefront of the builders’ minds.

New San Francisco 49ers Stadium Champions Club

State-of-the-art monitors will help keep fans from missing a down regardless of whether they are in their seat, the common areas or in one of the exclusive areas, such as the Champions Club as rendered here. Photo courtesy of San Francisco 49ers.

“Technology doesn’t change any faster than in Silicon Valley,” Nichols said with no argument from Hill.

“Infrastructure is very important when more and more fans are on smartphones, and the smartphones, themselves are constantly getting smarter,” said Hill. “Our team is working on a distributed-antenna system (DAS) so that fans who want to take pictures, videos, text someone across the seating bowl or email their buddies at home won’t be frustrated.”

Hill said that right now 20 to 30 percent of fans are using personal technology in venues around the league. That percentage is likely to increase by 2014 and perhaps climb even higher at the 49ers’ new stadium considering its tech-centric locale.

“I’d say 50 to 60 percent would be a safe answer,” Hill said. “We’ll be in the heart of Silicon Valley and even today a lot of our fans are from tech companies, and they want to use their devices and have a good fan experience.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell singled out technology as a key to tackling an attendance drop that saw crowds down 4.5 percent from 2007 to 2011, and only two-thirds of the league’s 32 teams sell out their 2012 home opening game.

In line with the league’s push to meet fan expectations, 49er President Gideon Yu promised at a press conference that the new stadium would be “the ultimate integration of technology and live sports to our fans.”

Although Hill wouldn’t disclose how much of the $1.2 billion project is devoted to technology, he did say that “it’s a big chunk and it’s safe to say it’s more than anyone has spent before.”

New San Francisco 49ers Stadium Exterior

Builders of the San Francisco 49ers' future stadium in Santa Clara promise unsurpassed connectivity as among its technology features. Photo courtesy of San Francisco 49ers.

“We want every new stadium to be the smartest stadium, and led by [49er CEO] Jed York, the new Santa Clara stadium, particularly because where it’s located, will no doubt be that,” said McCarthy of the NFL.

Hill acknowledged that a stadium located in the heart of Silicon Valley could benefit by having the likes of Intel, Apple, HP, Google and Oracle as neighbors. “One of the nice things about the Bay Area is you have such a wide array of technology partners to work with.”

The NFL has league-wide standards for instant replay and camera angles as well as telecommunications for coaching and medical staffs, yet doesn’t explicitly regulate in-stadium technology according to McCarthy. “But we do push teams,” he said.

One recent result of that pushing is an agreement that every stadium will provide free Wi-Fi by the 2013 season. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the first team do so and offered free wireless Internet in Raymond James Stadium at this season’s home opener.

“The good thing about the NFL is that while the teams are very competitive, we all share best practices,” McCarthy said. “We have meetings about the latest the teams are doing on technology just as coaches will have meetings about games.”

“Sharing information is how we’ve become the best,” he added. “You need all 32 teams working for the best experience and with the newer generation of stadiums there’s an arms race to build the most unique experience for the fans, but it’s about refurbishing older stadiums, too.”

The 49ers new stadium is being built to meet the tech needs of 2014 and beyond, but until then the team must appease connected fans at the NFL’s second-oldest stadium. Candlestick Park opened in 1960 and the venue has undergone many technical upgrades since it became the 49ers home in 1971.

The most recent is a distributed-antenna system to improve 4G LTE coverage. The team also created an app supported by an in-stadium network that makes camera feeds from inside Candlestick available to fans.

Other teams offer fans similar apps and real-time highlights from every game in the league available via NFL Red Zone. Many older stadiums have upgraded video monitors above the field and in concession areas, and this season fans attending games are shown the same replay that referees view under the hood.

“Looking ahead, under consideration is having selected players mic’d in some fashion for exclusive in-stadium audio,” McCarthy said.

Those who prefer not to call, text, tweet, Facebook, view or capture photos and video, check their fantasy team or order garlic fries from their iPhone haven’t been overlooked amid all the efforts to integrate hi-tech offerings.

“We’re considering a wide range of tech advances to meet the fans’ desire to be connected — that is, if they want it,” McCarthy said. “It could be the 3 to 4 hours not to be connected to a device. They want the more social aspect of being at a game with tens of thousands of other fans and get away from their technology.”