Brighton & Hove Albion differs from many other league clubs in that its ground – which was inaugurated in 2011 – is located some distance from Brighton itself, at Falmer on a greenfield site at the edge of the South Downs. Most spectators arrive at the ground by train and this, according to The Cloud commercial director Roger Matthews, means the club sees longer “dwell times” before and after the game.
“Fans get deposited at the ground earlier than city centre football clubs, so Brighton & Hove has more opportunity to engage with them, but also they have more opportunity to walk around, and if they haven’t got great connectivity, they can’t get onto mobile devices,” said Matthews.
“Brighton also has a young demographic of fans and wanted to encourage more younger fans to come to games, and thought that being connected to them was important to communicate and allow fans to get on social media and increase the virtual size of the crowd.”
In contrast to Manchester United, which recently banned tablet and laptop devices from Old Trafford due to unspecified security concerns, Brighton & Hove Albion CEO Paul Barber said the ability to get online was a vital part of the match-day experience.
More on stadium Wi-Fi
“For us, mobile is a great way of bringing the fans closer to the action and there’s an opportunity to expand on that in the future with competitions, games or other interactive tools. Having fast, free internet across the ground is key to engaging with fans,” he said.
With an average gate of around 27,000, and armed with statistics from Ruckus Wireless that suggest typically a third of people will use a public Wi-Fi connection if available, The Cloud deployed a network that could handle 50% of that capacity being online at any one time, with a mix of 80 Ruckus ZoneFlex 7732 and 7782 access points (APs).
According to Ruckus marketing director Roger Hockaday, between 80 and 130 is typically an adequate number of APs for a standard stadium installation – if more are deployed problems begin to arise around co-channel interference.
The network has so far only been soft-launched and tested at a couple of games, said Matthews, but already Brighton & Hove Albion has found that approximately half the ticket holders were carrying a device that connected to the Wi-Fi, and a third of those actively used it.
The club said that using an established free Wi-Fi supplier, like The Cloud, would boost take-up and usage, as the provider already has about nine million registered devices that could automatically connect to its network.