Building the Stadium of the Future Today
Building the Stadium of the Future Today
With an assist from Cisco solutions and services, the Atlanta Braves give fans new digital experiences to enjoy and share
New ballpark means new challenges for Braves IT
When the Atlanta Braves baseball team began its plans for a new ballpark in northern Atlanta, it had big ideas. The organization’s leaders wanted nothing less than the most technologically advanced sports venue in the world. SunTrust Park would be a model of a state-of-the-art, digitally enhanced stadium experience, and Braves IT was under enormous pressure to get it right.
“At the last four stadiums built in the U.S. prior to ours, the head of IT was no longer at the company on or shortly after opening day,” says Greg Gatti, Braves vice president of IT. “I talked to some of them, and the number-one reason they struggled was bad infrastructure decisions. I was betting my job and my future on the technology partners I chose for this project, and Cisco was an easy decision.”
The Braves deployed a full complement of Cisco® solutions: end-to-end networking and Wi-Fi infrastructure, data center, digital signage and analytics, security, support, and more, along with expert assistance from Cisco Services at every step in the journey.
And what a journey it was. At SunTrust Park, baseball is just one part of the fan experience. The new property features a 1.5-million-square-foot mixed-use development called The Battery Atlanta, with bars, restaurants, retail shops, and apartments, as well as a four-star hotel and live music venue. For the Braves—and the IT team supporting them—the job is no longer solely about providing a great day at the ballpark. Now, they are landlords of a massive mixed-use development, with hundreds of tenants operating year round.
Where Braves IT had previously managed a relatively small in-house network, with third-party vendors responsible for their own technology, Gatti aimed to bring all digital systems onto a single platform.
“It’s our reputation on the line,” he says. “We needed to have visibility and control of the entire network to ensure everything runs smoothly for our fans and guests.”
The most advanced stadium in North America
Braves IT knew that Wi-Fi would be central to the SunTrust Park experience for tens of thousands of fans each day. “The Wi-Fi connectivity is the crown jewel of our technology stack and the enabler for everything we do,” says Gatti.
Working with the Braves’ public Wi-Fi partner, Comcast, Cisco Services designed a champion-caliber Wi-Fi network from the ground up. With dual 100-Gigabyte Internet circuits and more than 1250 Cisco wireless access points, SunTrust Park now delivers the fastest Wi-Fi speeds of any sports venue in North America. The network can support thousands of simultaneous Wi-Fi sessions and deliver excellent performance, even in an extremely dense, demanding outdoor environment.
“We give fans as much bandwidth as their devices can handle: up to 170 megabits per second, at their seats and across the entire property,” says Gatti. “We’re really proud of the fact that our fans will have the ability to stream and post without interference.”
Delivering new digital experiences
The Braves didn’t just build a new IT platform; they created entirely new lines of digital services. That includes a Cisco Vision™ solution delivering information, video, and digital advertising to more than 100 HD displays across the ballpark and The Battery Atlanta. Cisco Services worked with the Braves IT and marketing teams to design and deploy the system and to create custom graphical and video content for a new stable of in-stadium corporate partners.
Over the same infrastructure, the Braves now also support interactive digital kiosks throughout the property. Fans can browse shops and restaurants— even find out which concession sells their favorite beer—and get step-bystep directions, all integrated with Major League Baseball’s Ballpark app.
The stadium Wi-Fi also supports digital ticketing and payments. Fans using the Ballpark app can buy tickets before the game, forward them to friends, and enter the park by scanning a barcode on their smartphone. Braves staff also rely on Wi-Fi when they roam the entrances, scanning tickets in on mobile iPads to keep long lines moving. Guests can use the same Wi-Fi-enabled payments to enjoy all kinds of entertainment across the stadium, all of which used to be cash only.
If the Wi-Fi failed in any of those areas—especially for fans trying to get into the stadium—it could create bottlenecks that would ripple across the entire venue. Thankfully, there has never been a hiccup.
One network to rule them all
The biggest change for Braves IT has been the scale of the new stadium’s infrastructure, which is “ten times larger and 100 times more sophisticated than what we had before,” according to Gatti.
“In our previous environment, the food and beverage vendors did their own thing; retail, environmental systems, security, everything was separate and siloed,” says Gatti. “SunTrust Park is the opposite. We have a unified technology environment that incorporates the entire venue. We’re now a service provider to our food and beverage vendors, retailers, and parking provider. We push out Wi-Fi, video, and audio capabilities for the entire complex.”
For the “brains” of the technology platform, the Braves built a state-ofthe-art Cisco data center featuring a Cisco Application Centric Infrastructure (Cisco ACI™) software-defined networking (SDN) fabric with Cisco EMC VxBlock compute, storage, and virtualization. To protect all of this business-critical technology, as well as thousands of fans and visitors, the Braves use Cisco firewall and threat defense platforms, the Cisco Identity Services Engine (ISE), and Cisco Umbrella™ cloud security.
To make sure of the reliability and performance of the technology solutions, Braves IT also teams with Cisco Solution Support. If an issue arises with any part of the environment (including technology other than Cisco), Cisco engineers can address the problem at the solution level to resolve it quickly. While they’re at it, they also take every opportunity to scan dormant or emerging issues, so they can preempt and fix problems before they cause further issues. The expert assistance of Cisco Services also means that, despite the size of the environment—close to 10,000 ports—Braves IT can manage everything with a team of just 18 people.
An experience to remember
SunTrust Park opened in March 2017. The new venue, and the massive technology infrastructure supporting it, has delivered everything its architects hoped for. The Wi-Fi provides faster connectivity than many fans get at home, while reliably supporting 41,000 visitors and hundreds of critical applications every day. No matter when fans visit SunTrust Park or what they do there—watch a game, stroll The Battery Atlanta, see a show at the Coca-Cola Roxy—they have an experience to remember and share. “
The other night, we had a walk-off home run,” says Greg Mize, senior director, Marketing & Innovation, Atlanta Braves. “People immediately posted video from their phones of the place going bonkers. If I’m not even at the game, but I’m following friends who are, and I see all the excitement, I’m thinking, ‘I need to go to a Braves game!’”
In fact, Buzzfeed named SunTrust Park the most Instagrammed location in Georgia for 2017: the first time the Braves had ever made the list. The rock-solid Cisco Wi-Fi is also facilitating a major shift to digital ticketing, which saves the Braves organization significant time and resources. “
We’ve seen our mobile ticketing numbers go through the roof,” says Anthony Esposito, vice president, Ticketing Operations. “Last year, out of more than 2 million tickets sold, 50 percent of them came in on a mobile device. This year on opening day, 72 percent of tickets came in via mobile. That’s huge for us.”
The venuewide Cisco Vision video system and the advertising support from Cisco Services are also making a big difference for the Braves’ bottom line. “Placement on our IPTV system at the old stadium was basically a giveaway that we used to help sell other sponsorships,” says Gatti. “Here at SunTrust Park, it’s a different story. Now, we sell that ad network, and it’s become a seven-figure-per-year revenue generator.”
All this is just the beginning. Braves IT expect to continue rolling out new services and digital experiences using their Cisco technology platform. “Technology drives our business,” says Gatti. “We turn to Cisco to advise us, to help us with design, and to equip us with the solutions and services to do it right.”