Getting fans to forsake an impressive at-home viewing experience and to come to the stadium is a fight both college and professional sports teams are currently facing. The topic has been explored in a variety of ways, including adding live attractions unrelated to the competition at hand and making a day at the park more kid-friendly.
The latest effort in this ongoing struggle is to upgrade wi-fi in stadiums to allow for greater streaming capabilities on mobile devices. Making news, FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland improved its wi-fi speed to 10 gigs per second in response to the ubiquity of fans using mobile devices for a variety of data-heavy purposes during the games. These uses include streaming other live games via NFL Red Zone and Sunday Ticket apps as well as keeping constant tabs on fantasy sports and scores. The Patriots have also made similar changes to their network infrastructure, stating “in-stadium, high-density Wi-Fi connectivity is the next frontier for the NFL.”
For college athletic departments, one can argue this type of connectivity is even more vital than for the average NFL team. More tech-savvy and familiar with streaming and other mobile functions, the current college student demands even greater network access than the norm. While there isn’t a catch-all source for watching other college sporting events as there is for the NFL, most networks that broadcast college sports have accessibility using individual apps. Also, with the growth of college fantasy football (even despite daily fantasy behemoths Draft Kings and Fan Duel dropping NCAA sports), faster, stronger network connectivity is important to the average college stadium-goer.
Such an undertaking is no small task, however. With college campuses taking-up substantially more acreage than a professional arena, stretching Wi-Fi coverage to a stadium that might seat 100,000 people can be a logistical challenge. For example, the University of Michigan is in the process of a wi-fi upgrade that was limited to key academic and residential buildings around campus. The project has been ongoing for more than a year and requires coordinated efforts for multiple departments.
Another limiting factor for developing the desired level of accessibility can also be a campus’ relatively-new network backbone that simply isn’t equipped to transfer that degree of data. With mobile traffic expected to grow tenfold by 2019, even infrastructure installed in the last decade will be pushed to its limits. For example, schools that rank in the top-20 in campus internet speeds are currently reevaluating how they will approach the future in light of the uptick in mobile device use and demand for data due to streaming and data-heavy applications.
Ultimately, internet connectivity, while not a glamorous way to spend resources, is not a subject that should be left to your school’s IT department but should be on the athletic department’s agenda as well. Being sure campus stadiums and arenas have connectivity is important now in encouraging student involvement and will only become more so in the future.
Francis Giknis joins College AD as a contributor after seven years of teaching and coaching throughout the east coast. Prior to writing for College AD, Francis earned an English degree from the College of William and Mary and his masters at Columbia University. Raised in a cable television-free household, he remembers binge-watching ESPN while on vacations away from home, much to the chagrin of his parents.