It’s official — as of the 2017 MLS season, the New York Red Bulls have become the first North American professional sports team to use Cisco Meraki. The popular Wi-Fi solution is already running on 2 million devices around the world, and it provides a cloud-powered wireless network compatible with a variety of mobile devices.
North American consumers expect virtually instantaneous Wi-Fi wherever they go, which has left the owners of large sports stadiums scrambling to create Wi-Fi networks that can accommodate tens of thousands of people simultaneously.
At Red Bull Arena, 150 new access points have been placed throughout the building, including parking lots and admission gates.
According to Shaun Oliver, Chief Operating Officer at Red Bull Arena, Inc., Cisco told the Red Bulls organization that it would become “trailblazers in the United States and North America as pioneers of this system.”
“With that, [Cisco] guaranteed us that whatever comes next, this system can handle, and you won’t have to be spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to build on whatever the next Facebook, Instagram, social media craze is and also what the next iBeacon and push notification stuff that we use to generate revenue here,” said Oliver. “We don’t have to reinvent the system for that. The system will evolve with us over the next five to 10 years so that 15 years down the line, we’re still using Meraki. That’s really what we bought into.”
Globally, about 25 million young people play soccer, the world’s most popular sport by far. But in America, baseball teams like the New York Red Bulls draw the largest crowds. Of course, the United States’ biggest sporting event is the Super Bowl, which is also racing to digitize.
During the most recent Super Bowl in February 2017, 11.8 terabytes of data crossed the NRG Stadium’s WiFi network, a 55% increase over the previous year. At one point, 27,191 concurrent users were accessing the WiFi network, according to Tech Republic.
Oliver said that the Red Bulls first began discussing Wi-Fi capabilities at the arena four or five years ago, calling it a “focal point” of their planning. But last season, Oliver and Peter Katic, Senior Director, Information Technology and Arena Systems, started receiving Wi-Fi proposals from different vendors.
Katic went on to say that he considered Cisco Meraki to be a “lightweight solution in terms of a technical aspect.” He said that it has a free API that the Red Bulls can use, along with a bi-directional antenna.
Once the core system was put into place, Oliver and Katic referred to the new Wi-Fi as an “evolutionary process,” as it will continue to adapt to changing consumer behavior.
“[Meraki is] built on the theory that it will evolve over time of what fan engagement is and what fans need,” said Oliver. “It allows us to continually build instead of three or four years down the road, have to tear everything down and rebuild the system to what the fans want.”
The message from this new announcement is clear: For sports stadiums trying to fill seats, a powerful Wi-Fi network is no longer optional.