Touchdown! Comcast Biz Scores for Sports Teams

BTR_Feature_Art_Ethernet_1-6-14Many sports teams are finding their legacy systems inadequate to meet the "super user" needs of today's super fans, to give the coaching staff the tools it needs to stay competitive, and to enable the media to disseminate information instantaneously in the high-tech ultra-connected world.

With deep fiber, and with the scalability, low latency and reliability sports organizations are looking for, cable - and in particular Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) Business - recently has achieved several wins in the professional sports arena.

"We leverage the same fiber platform for residential and business," said Mike Tighe, executive director of data products for Comcast Business. "A lot of stadiums are away from the main business areas. This showcases our footprint and the depth of our fiber."

The Denver Broncos, the Boston Celtics and the Oakland A's are among the teams that have deployed Comcast's Ethernet service in stadiums and between offices. The Broncos' network, for example, can support 25,000 simultaneous WiFi connections, multiple high-definition scoreboards, and 1,000 HDTVs at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

"You have fans bringing in smartphones and tablets, checking other games on ESPN," Tighe said. "On any given Sunday, you might have 25,000 simultaneous WiFi users. For that concentrated period of time, you need a ton of bandwidth to support the fans."

Additionally, while media coverage used to mean a notepad and typewriter, now it means uploading photos and videos to websites. With legacy systems, many stadiums had poor access to the Internet, meaning reporters had to go back to hotels to send their data, Tighe said. Now teams like the Broncos have a 100 Mbps Ethernet dedicated Internet line.

"The better the (media) experience, the more content they see published and the greater immediacy of the content," Tighe said.

From a team operations perspective, the Broncos have a 100 Mbps Ethernet private line between the stadium, team headquarters and training facility. This allows them to do things like online tape backups and onsite preparation of film for the coaches to review.

"It is reliable. It is scalable ... and the last piece, there is little latency so it is a very quick response even when we are doing data or video prep," said Russ Trainor, VP of information technology for the Denver Broncos Football Club, noting that the team has plans to update its private connection to 200 Mbps.

Comcast Ethernet actually is scalable to 10 Gbps. Once installed, it is easy for teams to move up a speed level, Tighe said. With legacy systems, to change from a 45 Mbps service based on DS-3 to OC-3 could take 90 to 120 days.

"That is half or most of the season," Tighe said. "One of the reasons (teams) like Ethernet is they can call on a Monday and by Friday we can take their service from 100 Mbps to a Gig. The ability is there to scale to those levels without changes to the hardware."

The onsite hardware Comcast uses is from Ciena's (NASDAQ:CIEN) carrier Ethernet line. The boxes keep track of a number of statistics about network performance and traffic usage. One of the interesting discoveries is that starting last summer, uploads from the stadium began outpacing downloads to it, Trainor said.

"I have heard 'selfie' to be the word of the year," Trainor said. "Fans are taking pictures, uploading pictures. As you enable technologies on the back end to drive features and functions, fans grab hold. As people realize it can be done, it is being done. Upload traffic is increasing; the gap is getting wider."

The good news is that while home Internet service is asymmetrical, meaning that download speeds are greater than upload speeds, with a business class service, the speeds are the same both ways. "If they are pushing more content than downloading, it works out because there is equal bandwidth," Tighe said.

Monta Monaco Hernon is a free-lance writer. She can be reached at

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