Sports fans now have more ways to connect with the footie at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne after a venue-wide deployment of free Wi-Fi and an IPTV system by Cisco.
Etihad Stadium, opened in 2000, serves as the home of seven clubs including the Essendon, Carlton, St Kilda, North Melbourne, Western Bulldogs and Melbourne Victory. It has also hosted many large concerts including most recently the Foo Fighters and One Direction.
The deployment, announced at Cisco Live in Melbourne, includes 750 Wi-Fi access points and 1500 IPTV screens. Etihad Stadium did a soft launch of the new tech with a One Direction concert, but the system goes fully live on 4 April at an AFL match between the Bulldogs and the West Coast Eagles.
With the new technology, Etihad Stadium is trying to “catch up” with other stadiums around the world, CEO Paul Sergeant told media at Cisco Live in Melbourne. Sergeant and other executives toured stadiums in the US and other countries, he said.
Upgrading the Melbourne Stadium was particularly important to responds to a competitor that’s not a stadium at all, he said.
“One thing we’ve all come to realise on a global scale is that we are competing with this wonderful product called television,” Sergeant said.
“The venue industry stood still for a long, long time, and it’s only in recent years where everyone started to wake up” and see that live audiences are dwindling away.
Etihad Stadium could not avoid rolling out a Wi-Fi network for fans any longer, said Daniel Pote, the venue’s director of sales and marketing.
“Our fans, they don’t want it. They expect it.”
The Wi-Fi system is expected to support simultaneous web browsing of about half the attendees in a full stadium, according to stadium officials. The attendance record at Etihad Stadium is about 57,000 people.
The system provides sufficient bandwidth upstream to support social sharing, which has recently surpassed downlink traffic in many large venues, said Manny Spanodakis, Cisco general manager of sports & entertainment solutions, Asia Pacific.
A benefit for the stadium is that the Wi-Fi system will allow collection of data they can analyse and share with partners, stadium officials said.
Users connecting to the system much submit some personal details including their name, email address and postal code. In addition, the system is capable of triangulation that could be used to provide location-based marketing and other services.
"The data will provide us the ability to understand our fans and our consumers like never before,” said Pote.
“We’re not a data rich industry. This will provide a new platform to really understand consumers and purchasing behaviour, how often do they come to the venue [and] who they come with.”
Another benefit noted by stadium officials is that the Wi-Fi system will offload traffic from the 3G and 4G mobile networks, reducing the likelihood of traffic surges that sometimes prevent fans from making calls in the stadium.
The IPTV system allows the stadium to send HD images and videos customised to the current home team, as well as send specific feeds to specific screens or groups of screens within the stadium, said Spanodakis.
For example, the system could be used to redirect traffic flows, with different instructions posted on different monitors depending on their location, he said.
The soft launch at the One Direction concert went off with only half a dozen minor problems that were mainly down to human errors by staff like turning off a screen or trying to plug in a USB stick, said Sergeant.
Without advertising the network was available, about one in six of the young concert attendees found and connected to the Wi-Fi network, he said.
Other Australian stadiums are making similar upgrades. Last month, Cisco and IBM announced a Wi-Fi system and 800 new IPTV HD screens for the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Adam Bender travelled to Melbourne as a guest of Cisco.