In the world of professional sports, the fan experience is everything. Recognizing this, the New England Patriots initiated a major project to upgrade their home field, Gillette Stadium, into a cutting-edge facility. This project required a major revamp of the network infrastructure to support advanced video and augmented experiences. As the official technology provider of the National Football League (NFL), Cisco played a leading role in this transformation, bringing its expertise in enterprise networking and cybersecurity.
For all businesses, the network is core to delivering a great customer experience regardless of whether your "customer" is a retail patron, student, patient, or, in the Patriot's case, a stadium-going fan. In the world of sports and entertainment, the pandemic ushered in several digital services, such as contactless payments and e-ticketing, that were network-dependent. This new dependency on the network is causing teams across all leagues to upgrade their networks.
The cornerstone of this project was implementing a 2110 network based on the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) suite of standards. This was a strategic shift from traditional serial digital interface (SDI) broadcasting technology to a more flexible, internet protocol (IP)-based system. The transition was not without its challenges, notably the increased security risks associated with open standards-based technology. However, Cisco’s involvement ensured a secure and efficient switch.
“There have been record-breaking amounts of traffic on our network and thousands of attacks attempted during games. Fortunately for our fans, they’d never know because the games went on without a hitch. So, we have a strong partnership with the NFL and many local relationships with various teams,” said Patrick Morrissey, senior vice president of Global Specialists at Cisco, during a webinar centered on the Gillette Stadium renovation.
The webinar also explored the longstanding partnership between the New England Patriots, Cisco, and Acadia Technology Group and a more recent partnership with the Kraft Group. Michael Israel, Kraft Group’s chief information officer, oversees the Gillette Stadium’s operations. Given the high stakes of hosting tens of thousands of fans, Israel enlisted Cisco and Acadia for the most extensive renovation in the stadium’s history. The partners worked together to identify and resolve technical issues, ensure smooth operations, and enhance the fan experience.
Infrastructure Overhaul: A Cisco-Powered Experience
Renovating the Gillette Stadium involved expanding the stadium’s north end and installing the largest high-definition video board in the country, with the versatility to show a wide range of 4K content. Additionally, a new in-house control room and a master operation center were created to help the New England Patriots manage and broadcast content, replacing their reliance on external broadcast trucks.
Cisco worked with Acadia to revamp the network infrastructure, which extends from the parking lots to the gates, connecting various endpoints like video boards and ribbon boards. The network is secured by Cisco firewalls, which not only provide strong protection but also adjust to crowd sizes, making it an essential feature for a venue that hosts various events.
When developing the video technology and fan experience strategy, the partners visited several stadiums, including SoFi in Los Angeles, to gather insights. While impressed by SoFi’s features, the Gillette Stadium needed a different approach that required creating a distinct and secure network adaptable to varying crowd sizes ranging from NFL games housing 60,000 fans to corporate gatherings of 500 people.
Acadia took on a consultative role during the renovation, tailoring the technology to meet the stadium’s specific needs. Stadiums face unique challenges of various industries: they have the scale of large retailers with hundreds of point-of-sale (POS) terminals, the high-density Wi-Fi needs similar to a theme park, healthcare-like privacy protection requirements, and the security challenges akin to an airport. Balancing defense against internal and external threats while maintaining an open environment can be daunting, according to Kevin Hynes, Acadia’s president. Such complexity requires careful consideration and planning.
“Cisco has the experience in all these industries. Otherwise, you’d have to work with so many point solutions and have a larger staff to support them. Your cost of ownership would go way up. Cisco has been a unique partner in that regard, bringing best-in-class solutions in each of these vertical areas,” said Hynes.
The 2110 network was successfully implemented with the help of Cisco’s professional services team, including skilled engineers who support organizations in deploying different technologies like Wi-Fi in stadiums. Israel believes the team’s expertise was crucial in ensuring a smooth transition to the new network.
“When we embarked upon this 2110 network, it was foreign to us. But being supported by Cisco’s professional services team—which has already done this at SoFi and other stadiums—made it seamless for us,” said Israel. “The network was live in time for the start of the season and has been rock solid since.”
The partners are committed to drawing lessons from previous experiences to improve the Gillette Stadium even further. With plans underway to host more than six major FIFA 2026 events, there is still work to be done over the next two years to ensure the successful execution of these events.
Looking ahead, there are several network-centric, disruptive technologies coming to sports leagues. This includes facial recognition, self-service shopping, such as Amazon Just Walk Out, augmented and virtual reality, generative AI, and online gambling. All these will continue to put new demands on the network. Teams that invest in their networks today, like the Patriots, will have a significant competitive advantage over those that do not.
Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research.
Read his other Network Computing articles here.