Sports venues, cell service and how it can be fixed (or at least improved)

I can’t speak to everyone else’s experience in other cities, but at least here in Charlotte, cell phone service for both AT&T with my iPhone, and even previously on Sprint with my Palm device, is abysmal. Call signal is one matter, but then there’s the issue of data, which was poor with Sprint and borderline inoperable with AT&T. Sometimes, I’m lucky to even get an EDGE signal in Time Warner Cable Arena.

Some highly unscientific polling tells me there are quite a few other venues across the U.S. where this is an issue, too. I’m here to play problem solver, or maybe make things a little bit better. The idea is not really my own though. It’s lifted from something I experienced a little bit more than a year ago when I went to Austin City Limits. Given that some 60,000 tickets are sold, it’s not unlike going to a sporting event. There’s a large cluster of people who are frequently using their phones not just to make calls, but also to access data services.

As my friend and I entered Zilker Park on Day 1, we were handed cards touting how we could access free wireless Internet, provided of course that we were AT&T customers. It was their way of offsetting what was sure to be a data crush on their network in a single, concentrated area. (If you weren’t an AT&T customer, you did have the option to pay $5 or $10 to access the network from an iPod Touch.)

I’m not privy to what AT&T’s agreement with the festival was, but their branding was all over the place. I can only assume that this was at least part of the deal. This brings me back to how we can incorporate this idea in sports venues.

If we’ve learned anything over the last decade or two, it’s that going to stadiums is about more than just the game. It’s about enhancing the full experience of the fans, like those who shell out premium prices for an iPad and maybe an MLB app to enhance the game viewing experience. It’s safe to assume there are probably similar offerings coming from other leagues at some point in the future as tablet devices become less expensive. But how can people enjoy those iPad and iPhone apps if they can’t even get a signal or open a simple web page?

Arenas and teams should be leveraging sponsorship opportunities — be it discounted or free placement — in exchange for WiFi from various carriers. Maybe the NBA could even go so far as to make a league-wide deal with T-Mobile, who is already the official provider of the league. Ditto for the NFL and Verizon. If such a deal couldn’t be reached, what about a smaller example. iPhone traffic overwhelms the experience at Time Warner Cable Arena, so how about finding a semi-prominent place to slap AT&T branding in the arena in exchange for the network’s customers. In fact, in the case of TWC, why isn’t the internet provider taking care of better WiFi infrastructure themselves? (That’s a whole different argument though; This is about bringing in other sponsors.) After the fact note: David Arnott reminds me that TWC does actually have free in-house WiFi — you’ve just got to input an e-mail address. Still, not something that is common in arenas/stadiums.

This seems like a win for everyone, and one that’s too simple to ignore much longer. Brands get exposure at sports venues, teams enhance the fan experience, and fans reclaim the basic functionalities of their wireless devices.


2 Responses to Sports venues, cell service and how it can be fixed (or at least improved)

  1. David A. says:

    There’s free wifi at the Cable Box. You have to give them an email address, but I have a dummy for that purpose, and have used their wifi to post during and immediately after games many times.

  2. chrislittmann says:

    You’re right. I probably should’ve noted this. (Hell, I regularly use that WiFi.)

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