Stanford University

At the Stadium: Still the Best Way to Take In a Game?

Taking in a game live at the venue is typically considered an unbeatable sports experience. In recent years, however, the viewing experience for fans absent from the stadium has improved dramatically, closing the gap between live and televised sporting events. With access to big-screen, high-definition televisions, cable packages that show multiple games simultaneously and trick-play controls for pausing and rewinding a live broadcast, today’s sports fans are less incentivized to shell out dollars for game day tickets, transportation, parking and food. As a result, drawing attendance at stadiums has become more and more of a challenge for many sports teams and leagues, both within the college and professional ranks. Stanford University, a college known for its rich athletic traditions and technological innovation, recently hit upon a new way to attract fans to live sporting events. How did the school create a unique and exciting experience for fans inside its venues?

Background: A Trendsetter In College Sports

Stanford University is known as one of the top academic institutions in the United States; with its reputation for scholastic excellence, the school’s athletic achievements are often overlooked. A member of the Pacific 12 conference, Stanford has “quietly” won 116 national championships, second among all universities, and 439 NCAA individual sport titles, which is first among Division I (D-I) schools. Stanford sent more athletes to the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics than any other college in the U.S, winning 25 Olympic medals. This would have ranked #11 if it were a country — tying with Japan.

The athletic facilities at Stanford are top-notch. Maples Pavilion, home to the men’s and women’s basketball, volleyball and gymnastics teams, was renovated in 2005. A new Stanford Stadium, the home of Stanford football, was unveiled in 2006 and has gone on to host multiple top-ten college football matchups. However, while good teams and first-rate facilities are valuable assets for drawing large crowds, the university has pushed to add technological advances to its list of attractions as well.

Stanford Wi-Fi Instant Replay Workflow

Challenge: Turning the Turnstiles

In 1935, Stanford Stadium set a record for single-game attendance, with 94,000 spectators filling the arena for a football game against the University of California. When the newly renovated stadium opened in 2006, the amenities had been upgraded while the seating capacity was reduced to 50,000. Selling out games should have been no problem for the Cardinals then, right? Not quite. Top-ten Stanford football teams still challenged the university to maximize game attendance, including then-head coach Jim Harbaugh: “Somebody has got to spearhead [the effort of getting fans to games],” he said. “It can’t be everybody pointing around a table saying, ‘It’s your job. It’s your job.”

Recognizing the need to fill stadium seats, the Stanford Athletics department took the lead in leveraging new media and video technology to produce a compelling draw for fans inside the university’s sports venues. The widespread adoption of smartphones, tablets and other portable devices offered a straightforward way to add a novel dimension to Stanford athletic events, unique to event attendees. The university deployed advanced wireless networks across its sporting facilities and built out its video infrastructure to allow in-stadium broadband access and to serve up instant replays on connected devices. This forward-thinking plan would enhance the fan experience, but required the integration of leading-edge video encoding equipment to be successful.

Making Game Day Interactive

In-stadium Wi-Fi instant replay is part of a larger Stanford Athletics initiative to augment the game day experience for fans with mobile devices. Instant replay clips are available through two different mobile products offered by the university: the Stanford Game Day Live mobile website and the iCardinal application for Apple and Android devices. In addition to real-time video replays powered by Elemental® Live, the mobile website features live statistics, a venue guide, and social media integration. The dedicated iCardinal mobile app offers the same features along with location-based services, photo-sharing, a radio feed, and news, scores, schedules, rosters and other information about Stanford Athletics. In addition, mobile food ordering is available, allowing fans to avoid waiting in concession lines. These mobile offerings give supporters in the venue a highly personalized and interactive experience on game day and, according to Stanford, align with broad changes in technology and consumer preferences.

Solution: Taking the In-Stadium Experience to Another Level

Stanford found a solution flexible and robust enough to satisfy the advanced encoding requirements for its Wi-Fi Instant Replay system in Elemental Live. Elemental Live is a software-defined video processing solution that provides video and audio encoding for live event streaming to online and mobile platforms. Elemental Live supplies adaptive bitrate video for Stanford’s Wi-Fi instant replay system, which delivers game clips and highlights to fans’ mobile devices within a few seconds of live play.

The solution gives fans in attendance at sporting events on campus immediate access to video/audio replay on Wi-Fi enabled mobile devices. Replays are viewed through either the free Stanford Gameday Live website or dedicated mobile applications available exclusively to fans attending Stanford-hosted sporting events. Stanford is one of the first universities to bring instant replay over Wi-Fi to its athletic venues; the system debuted at Stanford Stadium for the Cardinals vs. San Jose State Spartans football game on September 3, 2011.

Using Elemental Live, control room operators at the game are able to continuously create adaptive bitrate Apple HTTP files from four different cameras sources located within the venue. Content is encoded in real-time and immediately stored on a local web server. Real-time encoding of multiple video streams is critical to this application – operators selecting video for the main boards in the stadium can simultaneously create and push highlight clips formatted for mobile devices using a simple function key that references a manifest file and existing metadata. The availability of adaptive streams from Elemental Live ensures uninterrupted video delivery to end users through high network traffic or bandwidth constraints.

Benefit: Merging the Best of Both Fan-tastic Worlds

With Elemental Live powering its instant replay system, Stanford is able to provide Cardinal supporters with angles of coverage never before experienced at a game. With unprecedented performance, the system executes simultaneous encoding of multiple adaptive bitrate streams, delivering the high-quality, high-efficiency outputs required to convert multiple cameras feeds into device-friendly formats inside the stadium. After a big play, fans can immediately leverage in-stadium Wi-Fi to replay the action as much as they want from their iPhone, iPad or Android device.

The ease of management offered by Elemental Live allowed for quick and easy integration of the system into Stanford’s existing in-game workflow. With Elemental Live in place, highlight clips can be created and delivered without additional control room staffing or overhead, a key requirement for the Stanford Athletics department. The deployment of this streaming solution from Elemental helps the university further the goal of attracting more fans to live events. Higher attendance at games and bettering the stadium atmosphere, in turn, drives recruiting and leads to perennially contending teams, ultimately culminating in the biggest prize of all: alumni contributions. Each piece of this puzzle is significant – and Stanford’s mobile products create a unique and unmatched in-stadium experience for fans as part of a larger strategy for executing on these objectives.

  • Create an application to attract fans to stadiums
  • Prepare video for Wi-Fi-enabled device playback
  • Deliver video quickly and efficiently
  • Create several adaptive bitrate streams
  • Minimize encoding hardware needed
  • Harness the flexibility of a software-based platform
  • Deliver video in a new environment
  • Reduce workflow complexity
  • Save money and manpower
Replays are viewed through either the free Stanford Gameday Live website or dedicated mobile applications and are available exclusively to fans attending Stanford-hosted sporting events.

Dynamic stream switching ensures a seamless viewer experience when network bandwidth is constrained.
“Even the best seat in the house doesn’t offer the best view on every play. Maybe the action is taking place on the opposite side of the stadium, or your view was blocked by the guy seated in front of you waving a giant foam finger. Video replay on your phone means you’ll never miss a key moment, and Elemental’s approach means you’ll have multiple views of those key moments.”Philip Michaels
Editor, Macworld