August 28, 2013, 8:51 AM — Nothing can replace watching a sports game at the local stadium--except for HD TVs, warm living rooms and nearby snacks. A recent ESPN poll found that 41 percent of fans would rather watch a game at home than at a stadium.
"You have your own bathroom, the fridge is 10 feet away and the cost of a big-screen TV is less than it ever was," says Fred Kirsch, publisher and VP of content at the New England Patriots football franchise. "Those are really hard to compete with."
But the Patriots are hoping to do just that by rolling out free Wi-Fi at Gillette Stadium this season to give fans a more connected experience at the team's eight home games. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell endorsed this idea in May, saying every NFL stadium should have high-speed Wi-Fi for its fans.
The Patriots' stadium used to rely on cellphone networks for mobile traffic, but that approach couldn't handle the large number of photo uploads and status updates fans transmitted during games.
After piloting Wi-Fi in 2012, the team and networking vendor Enterasys are rolling it out in full for the upcoming 2013-14 football season. The network will have 360 access points and enough bandwidth to handle at least 16,000 concurrent users.
Along with the Wi-Fi network, the Patriots developed a mobile app called Patriots Game Day Live, available to anyone attending a game at Gillette Stadium. The team tested a version of the app last season with fans in luxury club seats and although only 10 percent of those fans used it, Kirsch says the team hopes to see that number increase by offering content that's only available through the app.
"We are trying to give things here that you can't get in your living room," he says.
That will include live play-by-play, bathroom wait times, a tool for ordering concessions from your seat, and access to NFL RedZone, a live compilation of all the scoring plays from games around the league.
The Wi-Fi network is expected to allow 40 percent of the 70,000 fans in the stadium to connect simultaneously. Kirsch says that, down the line, the team hopes to add unique content such as audio from players wearing microphones and video from the sidelines or locker room.
Read more about mobile/wireless in CIO's Mobile/Wireless Drilldown.