Tech Talks: Putting Together a Winning Game Plan with the NFL

November 8, 2017 Ryan Hall

How Aaron Amendolia, VP of IT at the NFL, Leverages Wi-Fi Analytics to Deliver a Quality In-Stadium Experience for NFL Fans

The ability to provide a quality, enhanced in-stadium experience for fans on game day is a common goal for every professional sports league.  Of equal importance is the ability to consistently deliver this experience across all the stadiums, for each team’s fan base. 

Aaron Amendolia: VP of IT, National Football League

The National Football League is no different, and technology plays a significant role in ensuring the in-stadium experience is quality, safe, and constant across NFL stadiums.  One technology in particular plays a particularly central role to this strategy, Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi analytics. 

To explore this topic further I sat down with the NFL’s VP of IT, Aaron Amendolia, who leads the NFL’s technology strategy across the League and all NFL stadiums, and shed some insights on why Wi-Fi and specifically Wi-Fi analytics are critical for insuring the very best fan experience moving forward.    

What drove the NFL’s initiative to develop a Wi-Fi analytics strategy?

We wanted to ensure NFL Clubs and Stadiums were able to measure the operational and business metrics associated to their significant investments in fan-facing Wi-Fi.  Using this data, it was important we, at the League Office, were able to show trends across games both local to a stadium and across stadiums.  This helps us establish benchmarks to make decisions for the systems based on utilization and performance.  We also learn the demographics for the types of devices and providers our fans prefer in each market.  Ultimately, one of the most valuable pieces of data we have access to demonstrates the applications and sites our fans use while they are at the game; all of these insights allow us to provide a quality game day experience for our fans.

How are Wi-Fi analytics central to a quality fan experience in NFL stadiums?

We’ve used this data to make the case for and to verify the value proposition of Wi-Fi systems in NFL stadiums.  When systems do not meet the utilization we expect (from monitoring usage trends across the League), we can approach the question armed with data as we make enhancements to the existing system.  Furthermore, our carrier partners rely on us to be able to share this data to determine the fan activity on Wi-Fi offloads.  Many NFL stadiums optimize their fans’ mobile experience by offloading more data-heavy activities from the DAS onto the Wi-Fi network.  Access to this data allows them to help tune the experience between DAS and Wi-Fi in the stadium as we aim to provide a balance of services to everyone who arrives game day.   

How does Wi-Fi analytics improve the operations and event management aspects on game day?

Our fundamental goal is to ensure the Wi-Fi system is providing a quality wireless experience in-stadium, but with the depth of data the ExtremeAnalytics system provides we are able to engage with the technology in a much deeper way.  With the application and site usage captures that ExtremeAnalytics provides we are able to fingerprint and measure if a club or NFL app is gaining the adoption we expect, and if not adjust our campaign to fans to raise participation.  We are also able to share metrics with our social and marketing teams to let them know which platforms have the highest usage among fans - we are also able to provide context around those numbers. For example, at SB52 we saw certain points in the game when Snapchat had higher interaction than Facebook; it’s interesting to be able to ask situational questions about social platforms for improving our reach, ensuring our digital strategies mirror the usage trends among NFL fans.

[The Green Bay Packers utilize Wi-Fi analytics at their home stadium, Lambeau Field; 1 of 22 NFL Stadiums Leveraging ExtremeAnalytics]

What are some specific use cases where the NFL effectively leveraged Wi-Fi analytics?

Our Voice of the Fan surveys are a great example of how we leverage quantitative data sourced from Wi-Fi analytics to validate qualitative responses we receive from our annual surveys.  The surveys are designed to request feedback from NFL season ticket-holders on a cross-section of topics related to the NFL and their game day experience, technology being one of these topics.  At a macro level, since 2012 fans’ overall satisfaction with technologies across NFL stadiums rose 15%.  From 2015 to 2016 alone, the quality of Wi-Fi experience across NFL stadium among surveyed fans rose by over 5%.  Questions related directly to the Wi-Fi service didn’t even exist until 2015 when we discovered most fans didn’t distinguish between wireless (cellular) and Wi-Fi technologies.  The validation comes when we’re able to compare the growing utilization trends across NFL stadiums and see that it matches the positive responses apparent in the survey.         

Another great example occurred during SB51.  We tested a live cloud dashboard with Extreme that we were able to provide to our app and social teams. This gave a live view of which social platforms were trending as the event was taking place as well as track the adoption of NFL sponsored apps and websites. We have concepts to interact with fans and measure our reach close to real time using this system with in-stadium engagements.

What are some important lessons the NFL learned from using Wi-Fi analytics, and how do plan to use Wi-Fi analytics in the future?

With any system that is collecting data it is important to preserve the integrity of the information. We’ve worked hard with Extreme to calibrate the system to be able to establish consistent metrics despite the underlying hardware of the Wi-Fi system, which may be unique from stadium to stadium

There are many points of data collected that are interesting from the perspective of a technologist, but we’ve had to shift our approach and engage our business partners to make this data relevant to the social, digital, marketing, sales and business development stakeholders. Getting the views and reports tuned in to the requirements of each of those groups is vital. It’s an evergreen process but the fact we have this data has opened many exciting opportunities to make it actionable inside the stadium, and that’s so cool.

Want to learn more about the Extreme Networks and our work with the National Football League, check out the resources below!

About the Author

Ryan Hall

Ryan is a Senior Vertical Marketing Specialist at Extreme Networks.

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