Broncos Ride Broadband Network Into the Playoffs

By Michael Vizard  |  Posted 01-10-2014
Mile High

By Michael Vizard

With one of the best regular-season records in the National Football League this year, the Denver Broncos are assured a home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. While that may give the Broncos an edge, there’s no doubt it will also put an inordinate amount of game-day pressure on the team's IT organization.

Responsible for delivering everything from a high-quality mobile experience to 76,273 fans at Mile High Stadium to multiple video feeds that the Denver Broncos coaches rely on to identify on-field strengths and weaknesses, the six-person IT organization has become a crucial team player.

In partnership with Comcast Business, a unit of Comcast Cable, the Broncos have deployed a variety of Cisco networking equipment that not only provides fans with the wireless bandwidth they need to upload content to social media networks, but that also supports multiple video cameras focused on individual players during every moment of the game. The video is transferred across a Comcast fiber-optic network to the Broncos' practice facility, where each play is analyzed from multiple angles by the team's coaching staff.

The network at Mile High Stadium's Sports Authority Field supports up to 25,000 Wi-Fi connections, plus new high-definition scoreboards and more than 1,000 high-definition TVs throughout the sports facility.

Russ Trainor, vice president of information technology for the Denver Broncos, says the biggest challenge the IT team faces is the fact that a relatively small staff of IT professionals are managing an extensive network in which fans' usage patterns are fairly unpredictable.

Obviously, an exciting play will result in a lot of fans trying upload video content at the same time. It's just that no one knows when that play might occur.

"With the playoffs, not only will the stadium be filled, but there will be media from all over," says Trainor. "We rely a lot on our partners to augment our IT staff during these types of events."

Mike Tighe, executive director of data services at Comcast Business, says that while the Broncos IT staff manages performance inside the stadium, Comcast uses optical switches from Ciena to connect Mile High Stadium and the team's training facilities to its networks. Like a lot of stadiums in the NFL, the Broncos' stadium and training facility are on the outskirts of a large metropolitan area. Because Comcast has already delivered fiber to residential customers in the area in order to deliver cable television services, Comcast is often in a better position to support the network bandwidth requirements of a professional sports team than a traditional telecommunications carrier, says Tighe.

"We definitely get the leverage from the investments the consumer side of the business has made," says Tighe. "What makes stadiums the flipside of the consumer business is, instead of downloading content, the primary issue is the speed at which content can be uploaded."

Those network requirements will become more pronounced with the advent of next-generation mobile devices that will not only feature larger displays, but one day will also capture ultra-high-definition video that will use orders of magnitude more bandwidth, says Tighe. To cope with the demand, Comcast Business has implemented software upgrades that will provide the Broncos with as much as 10 Gbps of network bandwidth in the future as needed, says Tighe. The Broncos currently have a 100 Mbps Ethernet-dedicated Internet line for high-speed Internet access, as well as a 100 Mbps Ethernet private line connecting the stadium to the football team's headquarters and training facility.

There's no doubt that IT is transforming the fan experience at almost every level of the game. In fact, one of the few things that IT isn't changing about professional football is that the fact that on any given Sunday any team can still win.

About the Author

Michael Vizard is a contributing writer for CIO Insight.