James Hammond, director of IT for the Carolina Panthers, discusses their three-phase approach to a connected stadium
In this article...
- Aruba beacons placed throughout the stadium offer fans customized content on the Panthers app
- Under-the-seat access points provide incredibly fast Wi-Fi speeds and superior coverage
As Carolina Panthers football fans walk into Bank of America Stadium this season, they will likely notice the new digital signs, upgraded suites and elevators that are part of the stadium’s 20-year facelift. The stadium also features new security technology to help keep every fan safe while they cheer on their team. And as fans inevitably pull out their mobile devices to access the Internet, they will be pleasantly surprised at the upgraded speed and reliability of the stadium’s Wi-Fi network.
This latest technology upgrade is part of a three-phase plan to enhance the fan experience and bring out the Panthers’ motto of “Committed to Excellence” in every part of the organization. Previously, the Panthers’ Wi-Fi network and digital antenna system (DAS) were handled by a managed service provider. “We didn’t feel the Wi-Fi and DAS were keeping up with our fans’ needs as well as density requirements, so we researched our options and decided to bring management of these operations into the Panthers organization,” says James Hammond, director of information technology for the Carolina Panthers.
“We’ve spent time learning from our peer stadiums to create the best network possible for our fans.”
The Panthers began installing Aruba (a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company) wireless Internet in January with 1,200 under-the-seat access points (APs). As part of the upgrade, the stadium now has three separate networks: the fan-facing wireless, a wired network for PCI compliance and a wired network for Panthers staff and security monitoring. “We have been able to learn from our peer stadiums, such as Levi’s Stadium, as well as our past experience with our old networks, to create the best network possible,” explains Hammond. “We decided to use under-the-seat APs because other stadiums have found they offer superior coverage and denser deployment than handrail or overhang APs.”
Hammond said that one of his department’s priorities will now be updating the Panthers app with new features. Since the stadium previously didn’t have sufficient Wi-Fi service for this, the organization did not update the app regularly. “Now that we have confidence in our network, we are going to focus on creating an app that will really enhance the fan experience,” said Hammond.
The wireless upgrade was actually phase two of the three-phase technology upgrade. During the last off-season, during phase one, the IT team removed the DAS and rebuilt it in 90 days to provide more cellular coverage for fans in the stadium. In the 2017 off-season, the team will install Bluetooth-enabled Aruba Beacons to provide more accurate location services, such as finding the nearest food vendors, bathrooms and emergency exits. Beacons also allow the team to push content and offers to specific fans based on both their location and their interests. For example, if a fan who purchased wine at the last game is near the stadium wine shop, the team may send out a notification with a special offer for pinot grigio at halftime.
“As Panthers’ owner Jerry Richardson says, ‘the fan is the most valuable member of our team.’”
Hammond adds that all of the upgrades were made to create the best possible experience for every fan, every time they visit the stadium. “As our owner Jerry Richardson says, ‘The fan is the most valuable member of our team.’ And as an organization, we want to show that commitment at our stadium,” Hammond says.