"This is one of the most-connected facilities in the NFL," if use of smartphones and iPads at Eagles games is any sign, says Charles W. Berger, pointing to wireless switches embedded under the stands at Lincoln Financial Field.
Berger, a Willow Grove native, is chief executive officer of Extreme Networks, a San Jose, Calif., company with yearly sales of $600 million. It built the free WiFi system at the stadium last season, with project manager PCM Inc.
"They put in 30 miles of cable in 90 days, building a bridge to our fans," said Anne Gordon, the Eagles vice president who oversees digital media. For this season, Extreme Networks doubled the system's capacity - to two gigabytes of bandwidth for the 69,000-seat facility.
Pro sports, with its aging fan base, hopes that more, faster, better digital content will draw younger viewers. Teams are also trying to juice the stadium experience, Berger said,
to keep older season ticketholders from staying home "with their 60-inch screens . . . and all the [cable-service] enhancements."
Extreme Networks, which competes with industry leader Cisco Systems, has connected 10 NFL stadiums, giving the company data on the digital behavior of fans for the NFL's 32 teams.
Berger, an Upper Moreland and Bucknell University grad, who worked at Apple before Extreme Networks, was in Philadelphia on Wednesday to speak at an Eagles Mobility Summit that also attracted league officials, led by chief information officer Michelle McKenna Doyle.
The Eagles "want to engage their fans to watch the game, and also that second screen, and to see their photos on the Jumbotron," said Extreme Networks senior vice president Norman Rice. The team pushes so many app-based pictures, videos, and offers that the Linc is the only NFL stadium where fans download more of the team's digital content than they upload from their own smartphone apps, according to Extreme Networks data.
One-third of Eagles fans use the team's apps at the home games, up from 27 percent in 2013, and a higher rate than for any other team, Gordon said.
It is not working for everyone, said Kevin Lynch, a Horsham consulting engineer with season tickets in the stadium's Club 27 area.
"The Eagles promote the hell out of it," Lynch told me, but "no one in our section can get WiFi connections to watch premium services."
Lynch said the Eagles promised services such as the NFL Red Zone channel, food ordering, or in-stadium camera views.
The Eagles say it is tough to test the network in an empty stadium.
"Every game," Gordon said, "is an opportunity for us to gather data, listen to feedback, and make changes."
The use of WiFi in pro sports is just getting started, Berger said. He noted that the referees at a recent college rugby tournament "ran around wearing Google Glass so fans could see what the ref was seeing." Glasses- mounted cameras signaled to smartphones through WiFi.
Why do the Eagles bother? Like many NFL teams, they sell out season tickets and fill the stadium for all eight regular-season home games. Eagles officials I talked to couldn't say the apps have brought in new fans.
That's not the point, Gordon said.
"Everyone here wants to be mindful of what the season-ticket members want to see and how we can move this forward," she told me. "We are not driven to sell tickets. That frees us to serve the fans at a very high level."