Upgraded NBA in arena Wi-Fi — it’s coming no matter what

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Heat and Lakers fans get blasted for this all the time on twitter, but frankly I’ve seen this at every game I’ve been to anywhere in the country — fans looking down from the game at their smartphone to check in on Facebook or answer a work email that comes in.

But it’s more than that — at a Nets game last year at the Barclay’s Center, fans in the arena could launch an app and watch different camera angles of the game with Cisco’s StadiumVision Mobile (other teams are toying with this idea). The Golden State Warriors owners have talked about wanting to be able to send text messages to season ticket holders at the game about shorter concession lines or specials at the gift shop.

Technology and the NBA are now married, for better or worse (depending on your view). We all live on our smartphones now, this is not changing. And when fans go to an NBA game now they expect to be as connected as they are at work or at home.

Which is why upgrading in arena Wi-Fi for fans is becoming a big business, as is putting in special apps and steps to reach those fans, something covered by an article at Sports Business Daily, via NBA.com, where Steve Aschburner talked to NBA officials about it such as Steve Hellmuth, the NBA VP of operations and technology.

“You have to set that table and provide them with everything they’re accustomed to,” Hellmuth said. “It’s not just about Facebook and Instagram – it’s the fact that they have a babysitter at home. They have a business that they’re operating. And we’re all expected to be connected and to be available these days.”

But what really is driving the need for dramatic in-arena Wi-Fi upgrades is video — fans want it, but it takes up more bandwidth. The SBD article gets into a lot of details on in-arena upgrades.

The challenge is to augment the fan experience in the arena without having what “head down” moments where fans are looking at their phones and missing the action they paid to see. It’s a balancing act, and it’s stuff fans in the arena can often already get.

“Both the Spurs and the Heat fans proved that in The Finals,” Hellmuth said. “They were really functioning as a sixth man. That’s the reason you go to an NBA venue.

“We don’t want to create more ‘heads down’ experiences around video. It’s nice to have but when you look at the investments our teams have made in HD video screens, for me, I want to look up and enjoy a replay with the person I came to the game with, right?”