In the sports world there is no team more revered by its city than the Montreal Canadiens. With all due respect to Green Bay Packer, New York Yankee or New England Patriots fans, you don’t know the absolute die-hard devotion of a Canadiens supporter. The team has also had an unparalleled level of success in North American sports with 24 Stanley Cup Championships and an equal number of players in the recently released NHL’s top 100 players of all time.
The home of this storied franchise is the Bell Centre in downtown Montreal. When one walks into the building, its easy to understand what “Canadiens tradition” means, as there are reminders of the legends who played for this franchise and the promise of future greatness, which is why the fans come out in droves no matter what. Through success and failure, good times and bad, the seats always sell out.
How does the Bell Centre provide an experience worthy of the devoted fan? What’s needed is an experience that greatly enhances being in the stadium and impresses the patrons as much as the hockey team does. This can be quite a challenge for any entertainment venue, but the Bell Centre has another challenge: It has only one network professional to manage all of its systems.
This past weekend, my lovely wife, Christine, and I visited the Bell Centre and experienced all it had to offer and watched the home team take on the Washington Capitals. Prior to the game, I got a behind-the scenes tour of the facility by Pierre-Eric Belzile, vice president of information and communication technology for the Bell Centre and Canadiens Hockey Club. As I mentioned earlier, he is the sole individual in charge of network and communications infrastructure and understanding how to use it to improve the fan experience.
Avaya solutions help give fans state-of-the-art experiences
A one-person team is obviously small when it comes to the size of the staff, but the vision is certainly large. Belzile’s vision is for the Bell Centre to offer fans a state-of-the-art, connected experience that is unmatched in the sports world. To accomplish this, Belzile relies heavily on his vendors to provide leading-edge technology to fulfill on this vision. For his needs in communications and network, he turned to Avaya.
The Bell Centre uses the “full stack” of Avaya solutions, including unified communications (UC), call center, as well as wired and wireless networking. The 29-person call center relies heavily on Avaya to fulfill all of its customer interactions, and UC enables workers to communicate with one another more efficiently, but I’m going to focus on the many new services the network is enabling.
The network itself is an Avaya Fabric powered by two VSP 9000s that connect to more than 60 distribution switches all around the rink. These switches connect a wide range of wired devices and more than 500 802.11 AC access points from Avaya.
New services at the Bell Centre
The combined wired and wireless network powers several network services, including the following:
- Digital signage. The Bell Centre has upgraded almost all of its signs to digital displays. Every concession stand and fan area has full-HD screens with interactive content that can be managed from a central location. Also, the concourse levels are outfitted with over 100 dual displays, one with a live stream so not one of the 21,000 fans will miss a moment’s action when they are away from their seats. The other screen shows advertising, player profiles and other information. The digital signage solution was provided by Matrox Maevex but relies heavily on the network for multicast capabilities.
- 50/50 raffle. Every sporting event has a 50/50 raffle for which fans pay money and one lucky person wins half the collected pot at the end of the game. At Candiens games, the other half goes to the Montreal Children’s Foundation. The Bell Centre has several 50/50 representatives walking around with network-enabled, wearable printers. Patrons can pay with cash or credit card and get a single piece of paper with all of the numbers on it. Prior to the network-enabled service, customers were given paper tickets that were cumbersome at best.
The change to the 50/50 raffle has produced staggering results. Prior to the new system, a large 50/50 jackpot was $20,000—$10,000 for the winner and $10,000 for the charity. Now, the average jackpot is about $60,000, with a peak this year of $97,000. The game my wife and I attended had a pot of about $65,000.
- Metal detectors. All of the metal detectors are connected to the network. This lets operations tune, reboot and adjust the units from a central location instead of having to dispatch people to them. When 20,000-plus people are trying to get into the arena, the time saved by doing this can have a big impact.
- IP surveillance cameras. The entire Bell Centre is covered with IP cameras, with most of them being hidden. This allows security operations to watch for trouble or people who may need assistance.
- Video replay system. Video replay has become a critical component of fair play in the NHL. In most rinks, only the benches and referees have access to replay videos. In Montreal and a couple of others cities (Vancouver and Boston), the same view is available in the press area, home and visiting team boxes, benches and anywhere else people wish to see it.
- Loyalty program. The team has a fan loyalty program called Club 1909, named for the year the team was founded. Fans can earn points buying tickets or merchandise, as well at designated Club kiosks located around the arena.
- Point-of-sale systems. All of the point-of-sale systems are connected to the data network. Fans can pay directly from their mobile device simply through a scan when they purchase items. This improves the fan experience, as it makes purchasing faster and easier.
- Mobile tickets. Instead of needing paper tickets, fans will soon be able to enter the stadium with a mobile ticket with a scan of a bar code. Through the Club 1909 app, customers can send tickets to others and change ownership. In the future, the bar code will becoming dynamic and change constantly to prevent counterfeiting.
- Wi-Fi everywhere. Every inch of the Bell Centre is covered with Wi-Fi. This includes the seating area, press box, elevators, bathrooms, stairwells and anywhere a fan might be. Belzile told me he can spin up a new SSID in a matter of minutes if he needs to.
How can one person accomplish so much? One of the primary benefits of the Avaya Network Fabric is that the architecture allows for changes to be made at the edge and then quickly propagated across the entire network. Also, because it runs shortest path bridging (SPB), there is no need to run layered protocols, making it operationally very simple.