Is Technology the Twelfth Man in Football? (With Apologies to Fans of the Seattle Seahawks)

Keeping fans connected helps fill seats at NFL games.

By on November 21, 2014

Thirty-three-year-old Wes Palnovsky is a dedicated Denver Broncos fan who is now one of the many Americans who have chosen the “Orange and Blue” as America’s favorite team.

“We try to get to at least one game each year,” said Palnovsky.

According to a recent poll, the Broncos have unseated the Dallas Cowboys as the most popular football team in the country. It also shows that football is growing in popularity across the country, gaining fans across all regions, political parties and age groups. For millennial fans, staying connected is an expectation when they fill seats at Sports Authority Field at Mile High stadium in Denver.  

“Our wireless network has now become a living and breathing part of the game-day experience,” said Russ Trainor, the Denver Broncos’ vice president of information technology.

Almost every Sunday, the Palnovskys jump online as soon as they wake up, whether it’s at home or tailgating in the parking lot of Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The couple is updating social media sites, streaming games on Verizon’s NFL Mobile App and even surfing the web to see how they are doing in the fantasy league.

“We are looking for news about our own teams and other teams,” said Ana Palnovsky. 

Fans like the Palnovskys do not unplug once they are inside the stadium, which is why the Broncos and Verizon Wireless have worked together over the past two years to double the size of Verizon’s Distributed Antenna System (DAS) and upgrade the stadium’s Wi-Fi and antenna system.

“Our partnership has allowed Verizon Wireless and the Denver Broncos to keep up with the demand for data at football games and other events at the Sports Authority Field,” said Rick Goldschmidt, executive director of network ops and engineering for the Mountain Region. “We know on game-day, we could have thousands of fans looking to post selfies and text friends about where to meet up at halftime. We want all of those connections to go through.”

Thanks to all that preparation, when Peyton Manning entered the record books for throwing more than 508 touchdown passes, fans Wes and Ana could share it on social media.

“When something historic happens during a game, it is definitely a trigger,” said Trainor. “People want to share in the excitement and they often do that on social networks.”

“We want all fans to have a great experience, and sharing memories while they are here is a big part of that,” said Derek Thomas, director of corporate partnerships for the Broncos.

Watching instant replays on the jumbotron has also become passé. Fans want to use their own screens to review plays. For three years, the Broncos have offered instant replays on their Game Day App.

“Being as technologically advanced as we are -- as both a stadium and a team -- is due in part to our partners,” said Trainor. “We wouldn’t be here without the partnership we have with Verizon.”

“It’s no secret Broncos fans want to do more on their smartphones,” said Chris Lewter, regional president of Verizon Wireless. “I feel the improvements we have made will match Broncos’ fans’ expectations for reliable service.”

Enhancing the game day experience is key for the Broncos and all 32 NFL clubs, who view the feet-up, at-home experience as one of its toughest competitors.

“The technology piece of it, the connectivity piece of it, the entertainment piece – they are all big drivers of why the NFL is pushing teams to get as technologically advanced as they can,” said the Broncos’ Thomas.

 “Stadiums need a good strong signal so you can check whatever you want,” said Palnovsky.

The Broncos now feel confident that the stadium has the infrastructure to support additional technologies that will help fans of all ages stay connected. By the end of the season, the Broncos will pilot iBeacon technology through their Game Day app, which will eventually give fans a media-rich, interactive experience throughout the stadium and let vendors offer special deals and incentives to fans.  

“If you are not staying on top of all of the technology out there, you could easily get left behind,” said Thomas.

“For as good as we are, there is still room for improvement,” said Trainor. “We can still do better.”

Tags: NFL, NFL Mobile, Denver Broncos, Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Wireless Network, iBeacon, Connectivity