Sneak tech peek at New Meadowlands Stadium

Cisco and Verizon Communications have helped build a state-of-the-art sports arena for the New York Jets and Giants in New Jersey.

The New Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey, home of the New York Jets and Giants NFL teams, is the most technologically advanced sports arena today in the U.S. Marguerite Reardon/CNET

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.--What will the sports stadium of the future look like?

Just ask Cisco and Verizon Communications, the two companies that helped build the technology in the new Meadlowlands Stadium here, which is home to the NFL's New York Jets and Giants NFL teams.

The 82,500-seat stadium, which cost about $1.6 billion to build, has about $100 million worth of technology invested in it to bring fans the ultimate football experience. It's equipped with four massive high-definition video display scoreboards. And there are more than 2,200 HD video screens mounted throughout the facility, so fans don't miss any of the action.

Verizon Wireless also helped build out a high-speed wireless network and it's going to make mobile applications available so that fans can get up-to-the-minute information on the team, players, and other games going on, as well as get important stadium information about things such as concession stand lines and parking and traffic alerts.

From left to right: Woody Johnson, owner of the New York Jets; Ivan Seidenberg, CEO of Verizon Communications; John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems; and John Mara, owner of the of New York Giants Marguerite Reardon/CNET

Video is a huge part of the new stadium and Cisco and Verizon have helped put together 34 channels of HD video that will be shown throughout the stadium, allowing fans to view replays and different angles from the game as well as other NFL games and other content while they're in the stadium.

The idea is to ensure that fans get the same if not better video and Internet experience watching the game at the stadium as they do at home where they are able to see replays and listen to commentary as well as check their fantasy football updates.

The wireless applications and video screens will only access video at the stadium. The NFL has special broadcasting arrangements with TV networks, so when people leave the stadium many of the applications won't work. Instead they'll be directed to the teams' Web sites, which don't offer as much content.

About 7,000 to 10,000 fans are expected to use the new wireless apps in the first season of the stadium. And some features will be rolled out over time.

John Chambers, CEO of Cisco, said at a press event here that it is the most technologically advanced sports arena in the U.S. The communications infrastructure is pure IP, meaning that all the video, audio, and any other media or communications throughout the stadium run over an IP infrastructure. This flexible infrastructure allows the teams to offer some innovative features and applications as well as helps future-proof the facility for whatever new technologies or applications may be needed in the future.

The network was built using fiber-optic technology from Verizon. Again this is another important distinction because the fiber used throughout the facility will ensure that as more content is added to the network the Meadowlands will be able to keep up with demand.

"Fiber optics don't get outdated," Ivan Seidenberg, CEO of Verizon, said during the press conference. "Once you've installed the infrastructure, it's there. What's different about baseball and football is that in football there is a lot more dead time, so you need to fill the time with entertainment."

Seidenberg said that the all-fiber infrastructure will provide enough capacity to offer whatever applications and services are necessary.

Cisco and Verizon have been involved in building other sports arenas, including stadiums in the New York area. Cisco helped build the new Yankee Stadium , and Verizon was part of the Mets CitiField construction. But executives from each company say this one uses the most advanced technology.

While some technology is similar, like the in-suite Cisco telephony solutions, there are some key differences. For one, the CitiField is not an all-fiber network. Neither CitiField nor Yankee Stadium has the same concentrated wireless network. Not only is the New Meadowlands Stadium blanketed in Wi-Fi, but Verizon Wireless has added more concentrated 3G coverage and eventually will offer concentrated 4G access as well.

Because the New Meadowlands Stadium is shared by the Giants and the Jets, it was necessary to be able to switch the marketing look and feel from the Giants blue and red to the Jets green and white. The Cisco IP infrastructure also allows for further customization so that two teams can offer different promotions and sponsorship opportunities for their partners throughout the stadium.

The new technology innovations are important to draw fans into the stadium. High-definition TVs and soon 3D TV viewing have enhanced the football-watching experience so much that some fans have complained they miss something by being at the games.

What's more, the weak economy has also hurt ticket sales. Attendance across NFL stadiums was down more than 3 percent from its height in 2007. But TV ratings have continued to grow.

While the new technology is meant to draw in fans, tickets aren't cheap. In fact, they're more expensive than previously. Team owners don't think that is a problem. John Mara, CEO and co-owner of the New York Giants, said during the press conference that the team's ticket prices and concession pricing are competitive with other teams throughout the league.

"I think we are fairly priced and we're competitively priced," he said. "It's true we are more expensive now. It's a more expensive building and it was built with private funds."

The Jets and the Giants have attached personal seat licenses for most of the seats in the stadium with fees ranging from $1,000 to $20,000. These fees give people the right to buy season tickets. Individual games are priced anywhere from $90 to $700 a game.

The Giants have sold nearly all their personal seat licenses. And the Jets have cut the prices of their personal seat licenses in an effort to sell more of them.

Mara said that some club seating is still available, and there are some regular games available.

Peter Brickman, chief technology officer for New Meadowlands Stadium, said that the technology used in the stadium is an important part of the business strategy for the stadium and the teams to help expand revenue opportunities. It not only helps the teams and stadium be more efficient, but it provides new ways to sell concessions and other items to fans.

"We can use data that we've collected throughout the stadium to help fans get through lines quicker," he said. "We'll know how long it takes them to get from the stadium to the parking lot and direct them on the best routes. And all the while we'll also be making sure they don't miss a moment of the action."

Verizon's CEO Ivan Seidenberg said that the investment the teams have made in the technology in the stadium will pay off for years.

"If you look at the investment that Cisco and Verizon made here, the cost of the technology used in this entire complex is only 8 percent of the total amount to build this place," he said. "So you have to think of the return on investment for both owners ."

 

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