No more Patrick Mahomes and Jalen Hurts: The real Super Bowl MVP will be the mighty internet in the stadium

Nearly 64,000 people are expected at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., on Sunday to watch the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs square off for the Lombardi Trophy. And while a duel between the league’s two most explosive offenses could set records, we’re (if not more) likely to see another record that day: in data usage and network activity.

Aaron Amendolia’s job is to make sure everything goes well in case the data spike turns out to be even bigger than expected. As Deputy CIO of the NFL, he oversees connectivity at the biggest sporting event of the year, ensuring not only that fans can post their selfies and live streams, but also that critical operations such as mobile ticketing and cashless transactions are seamless.

“Every year, every Super Bowl sets a new record for the amount of data transmitted for a single-day sporting event,” he says.

Last year’s Super Bowl at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles consumed 31.2 terabytes on Wi-Fi alone. That’s equivalent to streaming a million movies simultaneously (and enough data to store twice the entire the Library of Congress).

Preparing a Super Bowl stadium for such a dramatic increase in network activity begins long before the game. When a site is finally identified about three years in advance, it is audited by the league to assess whether it meets the criteria needed to handle the huge increase in demand for connectivity. Inevitably, things like Wi-Fi capability will need to be changed, followed by a second audit. Among the elements examined: the number of service lines and their capacity, as well as the built-in redundancies.

The need for multiple backups is critical. Despite careful preparation, the NFL is always unpredicted for something, whether it’s the data loss of tens of thousands of people streaming live from their phones or a line going down in multiple states.

“This is a global media event,” said Norman Rice, chief operating officer of Extreme Networks, the networking company that designs and manufactures network infrastructure equipment for large venues. “Everything is bigger and wider there. With all the people there, think about everything that happens around: ticket office, security. . . everything is bigger.

The COVID effect

COVID has really forced the Super Bowl to improve its gaming technology. The 2021 Tampa game was the first to feature digital-only tickets and a cashless payment system, with vendors relying solely on contactless payment methods.

“It pushed us to change companies years before we planned it,” says Amendolia. This meant greatly extending the reach of connectivity, even beyond the entrance gates, so people could swipe their tickets as they approached the stadium.

Preparing for this large coverage area means that representatives from all service providers are brought together in a command center during the game, where they analyze and watch for signs of bottlenecks, technical problems or security threats. .

These threats are very real. Because the Super Bowl is a high-profile event, Homeland Security helps prepare for it each year. And alongside potential incidents in or around the stadium, there is also a very real need to monitor the network.

“This event is a destination if you want to stand out as a nation-state or as a bad actor,” Amendolia says. “Our network must be ready to face anything that is thrown at it from the outside. Given the capacity of the stadium and the level at which it is operated, we have to be ready for anything. »

On the Thursday before the game, the team collects all sorts of technology that uses the in-game network, from broadcaster equipment and the half-time show to coaches’ headsets and tablets, and turn on all at the same time using the spectrum analysis used to see if there are any unexpected effects.

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This takes care of known data consumers. When it comes to fans, the science is a bit vague. For example, data usage on an iPhone is different than on an Android. And the league and its partners must also be aware of this.

“Norm and I are still monitoring the Android/iPhone ratio,” says Amendolia. “We will have different experiences based on these platforms. . . . And if something goes wrong, fans won’t think it’s their device; They’re going to think the NFL didn’t play together.

To avoid this, Extreme Networks partners with other sports leagues outside of the NFL during the off-season and may incorporate experience from other high profile events.

“We enrich each other in what we learn,” says Rice. “If one sport has no season, then another. There are things Major League Baseball does for the World Series that affect what the NFL does and vice versa. The goal is to get the best result and make sure everything works.


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