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Fan experience was front and center when FC Cincinnati, the Cincinnati-based Major League Soccer franchise, began building TQL Stadium.
FCC needed networking technology to support a variety of stadium functions: secure, high-speed, wired and wireless connections; mobile ticketing and scanning; a large video board; and a point-of-sale (POS) system for 175 food and beverage vendors. The organization turned to Minneapolis-based IT services firm and consultancy Atomic Data to supply the stadium technology, which was based on Aruba Networks equipment. The duo delivered network infrastructure capable of accommodating the new stadium's increasing attendance.
TQL Stadium's networking needs
After Major League Soccer awarded an expansion franchise to Cincinnati in 2018, FCC aimed to open a new facility and began building a $250 million, privately funded stadium with a capacity of 26,000 seats. Thorough planning went into the TQL Stadium building, which includes 53 traditional suites and 4,500 premium seats throughout four premium club spaces.
FCC wanted a channel partner familiar with soccer stadiums to oversee the stadium's networking deployment and selected Atomic Data. Atomic Data managed technology for Minnesota United FC's Allianz Field, a 19,400-seat soccer stadium that opened on April 13, 2019, and worked on Minnesota Vikings' U.S. Bank Stadium. In addition to overseeing the networking project, Atomic Data would integrate the technology.
The companies then evaluated vendors and decided to use Aruba Networks because of Aruba's equipment design, scalability and pricing, noted Yagya Mahadevan, enterprise project manager at Atomic Data.
The stadium technology package included the following:
- Aruba Wi-Fi 6 indoor and outdoor access points (APs) and mobility controllers for TQL Stadium's wireless network;
- Aruba access switches at the edge for IP audio and video;
- Aruba CX Series switches for access and aggregation in the data center;
- visitor-facing connectivity, including SeatGeek mobile ticketing and Fortress wireless scanners for paperless entry;
- Appetize, a cloud-enabled POS system that support the stadium's food and beverage vendors;
- two Daktronics video displays and 14,370 feet of SACO V-Stick S video fixtures that show live images, replays, statistics, graphics and animation inside the stadium and across its eastern facade;
- hundreds of security cameras and stadium access devices to ensure that intruders do not make their way into the stadium; and
- business applications, such as Microsoft Office 365.
The COVID-19 pandemic's impact on the project
Atomic Data tested all the project's equipment in its data center in Minneapolis and then shipped it to the stadium, Mahadevan said. Next, the company coordinated with the prime contractor, IBM, to provide the stadium connectivity.
Yagya MahadevanEnterprise project manager, Atomic Data
"COVID regulations made it challenging for us to install the equipment," Mahadevan said. "We had to provision the system in a piecemeal fashion rather than an end-to-end deployment."
FCC wanted an exceptionally responsive network. "Fans do not understand the network technology used in POS, mobile phone, parking or ticketing applications," said Dan Lolli, vice president of facilities and stadium general manager for FCC. "Ultimately, all they care about is whether or not the network is responsive."
Atomic Data used Aruba's network administration tools during the project, including its ClearPass policy-based network access control product and NetEdit software for coordinating switch configuration, monitoring and troubleshooting. Atomic and Aruba tinkered with the placement of the wireless APs to ensure that there were no dead zones in the stadium, according to Mahadevan.
The stadium opened in May 2021 with 7,000 fans at its first game. As attendance numbers gradually increased in the following weeks, Atomic Data and Aruba continued to fine-tune the network connections and coverage.
The TQL Stadium technology project marked the first time that Atomic Data worked with Aruba Networks.
"The Aruba team was very responsive," Mahadevan said. "They were available to us whenever we needed them to run through integrations and validate the network architecture. We also held biweekly check-ins to determine what was working and what was not working, and they were on-site whenever we conducted testing in the stadium."
TQL Stadium's network has performed well. "Atomic Data understood our needs because they had worked on other soccer stadiums," Lolli said. "They knew the importance of both the front-end and back-end systems supporting our guest experience and created a very responsive solution."
Following the project, Atomic Data said, the firm now provides FCC with virtual CIO services, remote support, and managed services involving compliance, infrastructure and server management.