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Eagles' fans can access free Wi-Fi net at home opener

Matt Hamblen | Sept. 11, 2013
Social networking by fans and concert-goers requires big Wi-Fi bandwidth at Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field

Philadelphia Eagles fans attending Sunday's home opener at Lincoln Financial Field will be able to access a new free Wi-Fi network to watch game video, visit social networks or even order food.

The installation of the Wi-Fi network, which cost "several million" dollars, is part of a two-year, $130 million renovation of the 69,000-seat venue, according to Eagles President Don Smolenski, who noted that the wireless network was a big hit with concertgoers over the summer.

"At the Taylor Swift concert in July, I was watching all these teenage girls taking pictures of themselves with their cellphones, and even Taylor Swift was tweeting during a rain delay," Smolenski said, adding that the singer's tweets were carried to the blogosphere via the free Wi-Fi network.

"It's going to be no different at the Eagles' games, with people watching videos and taking photos" and using the Wi-Fi network for in-seat food ordering, he said.

Several NFL stadiums, including Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots, now offer free access to in-stadium Wi-Fi service. Both Gillette Stadium and Lincoln Financial Field were equipped with 802.11n access points and a unified network control center from Enterasys Networks.

Smolenski said he picked the Enterasys technology on a recommendation from Patriots management.

"Wi-Fi is where the technology is going, whether you are on a train, in a coffee shop or sitting on a couch," Smolenski said. "People want access and the ability to do the things they want, which might be to look up a stat or have a restaurant review at their fingertips. Carrying that expectation into a football game was really the driver for us."

Smolenski said he and the National Football League want to use such technology to connect with young people in an effort to maintain a strong fan base for professional football, which has been a big part of Philadelphia for 80 years.

The team owner admitted that he's not a big user of sites like Twitter or Instagram; he said he uses his two sons, ages 13 and 15, as a personal focus group for what's hip in technology.

"My phone [an iPhone 5] is attached to my hip and I use it for work, so I'm not up on the Twitter-verse and all that," he said. "My sons say, 'Dad, how can you not know this?' But I recognize it's a part of today's world and important and ever-growing and ever-changing."

Smolenski said he wonders how many fans will be using smartwatches to communicate at football games in coming years now that wristwatch-like devices are being introduced by major vendors like Samsung ( Galaxy Gear) and Apple (which is expected to come out with a product called the iWatch).


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