Analysis: EPL clubs offered route to free stadium Wi-Fi – so where’s the catch?

Sports clubs of all stripes are increasingly turning to mobile connectivity solutions in stadia to better engage fans, drive new revenues and essentially keep pace with the younger generation which just expects venues to provide Wi-Fi as a utility. However, Wi-Fi installation is a hefty capital investment running into the millions of pounds with no promise that the technology is good enough to avoid drop-out or cater for more than fraction of the audience at any one time.

Only a few of the sporting elite, like the Levi’s Stadium home of San Francisco 49ers have made the plunge. In the English Premier League, the world’s richest soccer franchise, only Manchester City can claim a stadium-wide high-density Wi-Fi system.

So when a tech vendor claims to design, supply, install, manage and maintain the full technical Wi-Fi set-up ‘with no outlay for the football club’ you are entitled to ask ‘where’s the catch?’

“No-one is delivering to the Wi-Fi market in the way we do which is complete from end-to-end and free. What we are offering is unique,” explained Natalie Duffield, CEO of InTechologyWiFi. “We have an extremely healthy balance sheet, we have invested heavily in what we are doing, tested and researched the market prior to opening the door and spent a lot of time on application.”

The UK-based company’s Wi-Fi solution promises blanket Wi-Fi coverage and concurrent usage of 60% or better which exceeds most solutions on the market. InTechologyWiFi is in “contract negotiations” with a number of EPL and Championship football clubs as well as soccer clubs on the continent, reveals Duffield. The expectation is that half a dozen of these will go live in time for the 2015-2016 season. The company’s initial target is football, although Duffield says they have opened discussions with rugby clubs and is “working out the model.”

While the company has a number of revenue streams for both the club and itself in mind, the main one is monetising content delivered over a branded club app which InTechnologyWiFi will also create and populate.

Key to monetisation will be in-app advertising and Wi-Fi sponsorship which Duffield says the company will procure. IntechnologyWIFI was unable to confirm whether the club or IntechnologyWIFI, will own the Wi-Fi infrastructure when it is installed, although Duffield emphasised that the company will not sell the data it collects through the app to third parties. Nor will it push advertising at fans through the app.

There are tentative plans to stream live video content through the app. “We are working with Sky to look at serving out some content,” she said. “A club’s job is to get out a good team on the pitch. It hasn’t got time to monetise content or manage hardware.”

Clubs will have to weigh up the capital expenditure they might face on stadium-wide Wi-Fi installation against the potential value of rights to sponsors for an application that could reach every fan attending each home game.

Spun-off from parent Intechnology plc 13 months ago, InTechnologyWiFi has pedigree. The company is backed by serial IT entrepreneur Peter Wilkinson who lays claim to have invented the business model to provide free internet access to home users in the UK. In 1998 he partnered with Dixon Stores group to launch Freeserve, which became the UK’s most successful domestic ISP.

Wilkinson founded Planet Football and became the official provider of football club websites to over 25 clubs in the old first and second divisions. Subsequently he acquired Opta statistics to provide fan analytics and purchased betting company Surrey Sports to provide the UK’s first online betting on football matches. He sold the combined entity, branded Sports Internet to BSkyB in 2000 where it became Skybet.

With an eye toward the burgeoning market for Wi-Fi connectivity InTechnology plc bought Isreali wireless broadband solutions developer Alvarion in November 2013 and is the process of taking the product into two other verticals — those of Smart Cities and Greenfield (music) events.

It’s a market that, the firm’s website says, wasn’t being fulfilled by the predominantly US Wi-Fi manufacturers or any of the large UK telecom providers.

“Most Wi-Fi providers require different companies to handle different parts from site survey to sales and design to equipment supply, install and operation,” said Duffield. “Sometimes a hardware supplier will put Wi-Fi in without a SLA (service-level agreement) and once the job is done will wash their hands.

“As a company we have a lot of expertise in complex hardware, data storage and back haul solutions, we manufacturer (though Alvarion) our own hardware and provide round the clock monitoring. We can bring all this together as a single bespoke solution.

“Because we undertake the original installation for free, and maintain the entire service on an ongoing basis, we see this as a risk-free solution for all our customers, enabling them to offer a digital experience fitting for today’s technologically-enabled culture.”

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