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Making the right connection
Fans at Brighton & Hove Albion FC’s Amex stadium are benefiting from the installation of new wi-fi service able to cater for thousands of devices spending hundreds of thousands of minutes online
The Amex Stadium is the home of Sky Bet Championship soccer side Brighton & Hove Albion and plays host to over 50 soccer games each year. With a capacity of 30,750, it is one of the most-visited in the Championship. It is split into four stands, with the stadium’s three-tiered West Stand the largest of the four, holding 11,833 fans and 14 luxury boxes. Alongside soccer, the stadium hosts rugby as well as music concerts, plus business conferences and exhibitions.
Connecting fans to the action
The need to get online has become part of everyday life with Ofcom stating that 61% of UK adults now own a smartphone. As part of its role in welcoming both the public and businesspeople, the stadium knew that to provide the best experience in the mobile age where the UK alone has more 55 million mobile data connections, it needed to offer a wi-fi service. Relying on 3G or 4G was not enough as such a connection could run into capacity problems when tens of thousands of spectators descended on the venue on match-days. This kind of surge in mobile data usage had been known to slow service and stop people getting online.
“We host all manner of events, from sporting to music and corporate. With that in mind, when we made the decision to provide visitors with free wi-fi, this was not a straight-forward project,” explains Paul Barber, CEO at Brighton & Hove Albion FC. “This is a huge building with many different sections. Ensuring a wi-fi connection reached and was reliable in all seats, in all stands plus all hospitality areas, was no small challenge.”
Making a run into the mobile age
Brighton & Hove Albion identified The Cloud, a leading public wi-fi provider, as the right partner to meet these challenges, as it had previously installed wi-fi at large venues including Lord’s Cricket Ground and therefore understood and was able to adapt to the nature of stadium architecture.
The Cloud began by auditing the stadium to assess what would be required to establish and maintain a fast, reliable wi-fi connection. Technical features used to ensure connectivity across the entire stadium included limiting the number of routers associated to each wi-fi access point to keep the network fast and working. The positioning of access points was also vital with the need for them to be, on average, 82ft away from users with each access point covering no more than 500 seats.
As such, the coverage area of each antenna had to be carefully designed. Additionally, in stadia, the high density of users means antennas are often close to the mobile devices they are serving. With short distances, interference can occur, reducing the network capacity drastically. This makes custom-made antennas to suit that specific stadium vital. The team also followed a tailored design to suit different areas of the stadium. For example the devices and their usage differ between the press office and the ticket barrier, from the fan store to the bar and from the side of the pitch to the VIP box. As such, each wi-fi access point was designed to serve its specific area.
“The installation was completed without any problems,” says Barber. “The service was live in time for the start of the 2014/15 soccer season – which was another key consideration. Not only did we need stadium experience and technical expertise, we were working to a very clear deadline – game day one.”
Since installing wi-fi, the Amex has seen usage increase month-to-month with visitors using the service to check live scores, stream content, update social media and stay in touch with friends. More than nine million minutes have been spent online via mobile devices while more than 80,000 unique devices have accessed the network, completing almost 84,000 wi-fi sessions. A major test for the service came in January 2015 when a record crowd of 30,278 fans filled the terraces to see Brighton & Hove Albion take on Arsenal in the FA Cup. That match alone saw more than 13,000 devices connect to the network, consuming a staggering 600,000 minutes of online time.
The wi-fi installation has also resulted in increased use of the club’s mobile app allowing Brighton & Hove Albion to create game day social engagement programs that allow fans to share the excitement of coming to a game with their social networks. As a result, the club has seen a 28% growth in Twitter followers, a 20% growth in Facebook likes and a 103% increase in Instagram followers.
In addition to allowing visitors get online, Brighton & Hove Albion is also benefitting from data services. In supplying data about wi-fi users at the stadium, the club can match it with its loyalty scheme members to see who uses the wi-fi, how often they visit and other demographic information. Brighton & Hove Albion is then able to build profiles of its fans and visitors including away visitors. In doing this, the club gains a better understanding of its customers and improves the visitor experience.
“We are delighted with the service and so are our visitors,” comments Barber. “When we started this project the goal was to provide fast, free, reliable wi-fi to those in the stands, in our corporate and hospitality areas and also to staff working behind the scenes. Now we can provide wi-fi to clients and renters of the building with no set-up or extra cost. It’s a huge success story and the wi-fi has allowed us to consider new initiatives to enhance the overall fan experience at the Amex – whether that is more link-up to our mobile app or to provide more fan interaction on game day.”