Aruba delivers frictionless fan experience for Columbus Crew

Aruba delivers frictionless fan experience for Columbus Crew

When Columbus Crew required a great connectivity experience at its new stadium it turned to Aruba to benefit from a hyperconverged network powering 8,700 total square feet of LED displays and supporting 100% cashless, contactless, mobile-centric experiences.

To continue its leadership tradition as the first Major League Soccer (MLS) club in the U.S, the Columbus Crew envisioned creating a next-generation seamless fan journey when it began designing its new stadium.

Brandon Covert, Vice President of Information Technology for Haslam Sports Group

“Providing a great connectivity experience for all participants from arrival to departure required a hyperconverged network capable of handling voice, video, audio and data,” explains Brandon Covert, Vice President of Information Technology for Haslam Sports Group, owners of the Crew.

“Deploying best-of-breed wired and wireless infrastructure was fundamental to running the complex applications we intended to adopt.”

Aruba is clear choice for stadium leadership

As it has for nearly 30 years, the Columbus, Ohio-based Crew took a holistic approach to designing its new 20,000-seat Field and updating surrounding facilities. The initiative considers fans, guests, team members and event attendees from start to finish.

“Whether its touchless ticketing and entry for fans, state-of-the-art player facilities or digitalized operations, technology is the common denominator,” Covert said. “All of it requires high-performance, secure, reliable Wi-Fi and wired networking.”

The Crew evaluated prominent networking options before selecting an end-to-end solution by Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company.

“After looking at the many technologies and solutions we needed to integrate, Aruba was the clear choice for building a foundation that enables us to deliver premier experiences efficiently and cost-effectively,” Covert said.

Unified, intelligent and automated network delivers success

For Field, as well as the accompanying team and academy spaces, the Crew deployed numerous Aruba ESP solutions. The Wi-Fi 6 network is comprised of Aruba’s 530 Series indoor access points (APs) under seats and in VIP suites, along with the 570 Series outdoor APs. To manage the WLAN the Crew selected 7200 Series Mobility Controllers.

On the wired side, the Crew is leveraging the intelligence, automation, analytics and resilience technologies built into the Aruba CX Switching portfolio. This includes the CX 8400 Switch Series at the core, CX 6300 Switch Series for aggregations and the CX 6200 Switch Series for edge access.

The Crew is also streamlining wired and wireless administration and, eventually, rolling out Aruba Dynamic Segmentation by implementing ClearPass for network access control (NAC) and policy management. In addition, it deployed AirWave for network management. To automate and coordinate switch configuration, monitoring and troubleshooting, the team also adopted NetEdit.

Delivering unique, experiences from arrival to departure

Exceptional network-supported experiences begin even before Crew fans arrive at the venue. Using the team’s unique opt-in facial recognition ticketing system fans upload a selfie to their Crew account for contactless entry. Upon arrival at the stadium, a solution by Wicket identifies the fan and seamlessly permits them to continue through the gates.

“Our facial recognition system, which is unique to our MLS team, enables fans to redeem all of their tickets with one glance, including everyone in their admitted group,” Covert said. “This technology significantly speeds entry when funneling thousands of fans into the stadium, cutting the time it takes for fans to enter the stadium by more than 50%.”

Alternatively, fans can use the traditional mobile phone scan powered by Axess, which checks a ticket in a tenth of a second.

The stadium also utilizes AI-based touchless security screening by Evolv Express, a non-invasive, walk-through security experience that screens 3,600 people per hour, about 10 times faster than traditional metal detectors.

“As the first stadium in the country to combine Wicket, Axess and Evolv, we’re leveraging the network to provide a genuinely frictionless, fast, non-invasive and safe ingress experience,” Covert said.

Ultra-low latencies deliver true real-time streaming

Whether it’s a game day or a special event, on-site activities frequently begin on the 62,000 square foot public plaza. It’s equipped with a massive video display board as one of the 8,700 total square feet of Daktronics LED displays throughout the stadium. During special events, the plaza’s video board can stream concerts, watch parties and other public event content.

Inside the stadium, the two main Daktronics video boards at either end of the stadium are capable of variable content zoning. This allows each to display one large image or to be divided into multiple zones to show any combination of live video, instant replays, game information and statistics, graphics and animations, and sponsorship messages.

“Our network ensures our IPTV content syncs tightly with the actual movement on the field,” Covert said. “While many stadiums struggle with delay that’s noticeable, our network reduces latencies to under half a second, which is almost indistinguishable to the human eye, making our streaming near real-time.”

Lighting innovations create unforgettable atmospheres

With all lighting managed by Daktronics’ Show Control, the video displays and lighting bring together fan engagement, revenue generation, and production efficiency to create unforgettable game and event atmospheres.

“We’re excited about the advanced lighting productions we can create that keep fans and guests coming back,” Covert said. “Having state-of-the-art lighting capabilities, powered by the network, also enables us to attract national and international entertainers for other types of revenue-generating events.”

Enabling cloud-based solution for cashless POS

Guest amenities also include mobile refreshment ordering and cashless payments throughout the stadium, supported by wireless connectivity and integration with cloud-based point-of-sale (POS) from VenueNext.

“With only 15 minutes during half-time to serve 20,000 people, our reliable, high-performance network is vital for getting fans back in their seats quickly,” said Jeff Patton, Network Manager for the Haslam Sports Group.

Digitalizing player, coaching and staff experiences

Ensuring players, coaches and staff have modern digital support is also critical. That’s why the Crew has extended its network to include new indoor and outdoor team development facilities for its vertically integrated club.

For example, the Crew has opened the 42,000 square foot OhioHealth Performance Center as part of its soccer complex. There, network-supported amenities include a 40-person theater for players and coaches to revisit matches and practices captured by the Crew’s AI-enabled Spiideo camera and video analytics system.

Outdoors, on practice surfaces and the stadium’s pitch, cutting-edge hydronic undersoil heating and grow lights by SubAir Systems keeps turf strong throughout the season. It utilizes sensors and the network to deliver automated zonal control and live response to field conditions, including raising the field temperature by 23°F to 28°F to offset chilly weather.

Streamlined, simplified management exceeds expectations

From an IT perspective, having a unified wired and wireless network across all facilities creates significant efficiencies.

“We’re a small IT team managing a hyperconverged environment running complex systems, so Aruba’s ease of management is key,” Patton said.

The Crew’s IT staff is particularly excited about Aruba’s automation capabilities, including Dynamic Segmentation for simplifying and securing the network by unifying policy enforcement across the wired, wireless and VPN infrastructure.

“The ability to plug in a device and have the network decide where that device should go, based on how it’s being used, will be a real plus going forward,” Patton said.

According to Patton, NetEdit will also be an administrative benefit. “NetEdit’s switch configuration repository and automation tools will enable us to get new switches up and running fast,” he said.

Overall, the Crew’s network and intuitive management solutions are surpassing their promise.

“Although I’m very new to Aruba, everything is simple, straightforward and easy to learn,” Patton said. “Whether we’re discussing network performance or administration, our Aruba solution has exceeded my expectations.”

Coming up: ‘Just Walk Through’ and other innovations

Moving ahead, the Crew plans to continue augmenting its network to provide all constituencies with the latest experiences.

This includes assessing Aruba’s cloud-based, AIOps-enabled solutions such as Aruba Central for proactive network management, User Experience Insight (UXI) for real-time detection and remediation of Wi-Fi incidents, and Air Pass for seamless device handoffs between cellular networks and Wi-Fi. The club will also consider Aruba’s Location Services for supporting real-time crowd intelligence.

Regardless which additions the Crew makes, the club intends to leverage its future-ready network for ongoing entertainment innovations, such as exploring checkout-free refreshment purchasing.

“No matter how we evolve our offerings, we planned and built our new network with the intention to continuously innovate,” he adds. “We’re excited about the many ways Aruba is ensuring we can fulfill our fan experience and soccer operations missions.”

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