The Team Behind the Super Bowl’s Analytics is Setting an Industry Standard
Every year, millions of sports fans gather in front of the TV and settle into the arena on a coveted early-February Sunday for the Super Bowl, as two teams in America’s most popular game face off to be crowned as NFL world champions. This year, those two teams are the Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals, earning their place after a tense playoff season and upsets from both teams against Mahomes’ Chiefs and Brady’s Buccaneers.
What folks may not know is that there’s a third team that has also earned its spot at the game, is competing for most appearances with Tom Brady himself, and is in the middle of major preparations for the big show: Extreme Networks. The wireless network infrastructure company has been the Wi-Fi network and analytics provider for the Super Bowl for the past nine years. In a press release from Extreme Networks, Michelle McKenna, Chief Information Officer for the NFL, said:
“Planning and executing the Super Bowl is one of the most significant undertakings each year, and Extreme continues to play an important role in making this event a success. We lean on Extreme to provide the operational insights and intelligence we need to improve things like foot traffic flow, concessions and health and safety protocols – while ensuring we have optimal connectivity and bandwidth for fans to share their experiences and operate in a mobile-first environment. Real-time visibility into network performance offers a substantial advantage to understand what is working, how fans are using data and how to customize in-stadium experiences in ways that will keep fans coming back for more.”
Last year they made history with Super Bowl LV in Tampa Bay by operating the first 100 percent cash free and mobile ticketed NFL game. Wes Durow, Extreme Networks Chief Marketing Officer, says last year’s Super Bowl is just the start of a massive transformation in live sports and the omnichannel experience.
“It’s not just a smart phone; it’s some sort of wearable device. It’s not just one or two applications, it’s multiple applications they are using to interact with the game,” Durow said. “Whether if it’s some sort of fantasy football activity, whether if it’s gambling, whether if it’s NFTs, much of this is reshaping things.”
According to Extreme Networks, last year’s game revealed that 80 percent of the fans in attendance connected with the WiFi network using a number of different platforms, totaling a massive 13.97 terabytes of in-venue data usage. These analytics won’t just shape future Super Bowl experiences; they’re a North Star for the whole live sports industry to rethink different touchpoints throughout each venue’s season, and how they can help provide unique fan engagements.
“Some of our teams have found that people are using applications that they never thought they would use at a ball park or venue. Sometimes it’s dating applications, so we help them create not only packages of sponsors that they can bring in, but special nights,” Durow said.
Sticky fan engagement is what every stadium and venue is aiming for, as naturally, more engaged fans means more revenue and more passionate community. A lot of fan engagement today lives on social media, especially while viewing live sports. Two years ago during Super Bowl LIV, the last Super Bowl before the COVID-19 pandemic, Extreme Networks tracked that data usage was at an almost 50-50 split between before kickoff and after kickoff. Two years later, that trend is proving resilient. Durow cites a massive spike in data usage during a playoff game in 2022 between the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills in which both teams scored 25 total points in the game’s last two minutes. That data allows them to prepare their network infrastructure to meet fans’ behavior in the future.
“We could just see network usage minute by minute of what took place in that game and into overtime with such an incredible game, and we have that same insight for the Super Bowl,” Durow said. “Not only how people are using the network, but what are they using the network for from a fan perspective.”
Staying on your toes is key to adapting a network infrastructure, especially one that serves some of the sporting world’s biggest events. Durow says these quick adaptations and shifts are good practice for what some teams could implement in the future for their stadium experience.
“We have teams that are adding robots, that are adding drones, to help escort people from the parking lot into the stadium,” Durow said. “There are all sort of ideas built out; so what does that mean for the network? It not only needs to be robust and secure, but it has to be flexible and insightful. Again, it all goes back to operating efficiency.”
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