Behind the scenes, today’s IT network infrastructure plays a highly significant role in making sure that fans of the National Football League enjoy a great experience during games.
To learn more about that, I recently spoke with Chip Suttles, VP of Technology for the Seattle Seahawks. We met at the team’s home turf, Lumen Field, known as CenturyLink Field before the rebranding by Lumen Technologies.
Suttles, entering his 12th season in this position, is responsible for overseeing both the traditional IT aspects and the technical operations of the stadium. We discussed Lumen Field’s massive network infrastructure and how it’s delivering the best fan experience possible. Video of the interview and key highlights are below.
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Record Levels of Network Connectivity
Managing large-scale events like NFL games, with thousands of attendees, requires a complex network infrastructure. Telecom company Lumen provides Lumen Field with everything from network/internet services to backend support and hardware provisioning.
The Seattle Seahawks network backbone is designed for high traffic and fast speeds, necessary to support approximately 70,000 on-site attendees and remote viewers.
The scope of the network infrastructure at Lumen Field is substantial, particularly in terms of Lumen Field’s Wi-Fi connectivity. Lumen implemented Wi-Fi 6 at the stadium in 2020, including 1,500 access points, with more than 750 located in the stadium bowl alone. The design combined under-seat and overhead access points to optimize coverage and performance. This approach has proven highly effective, resulting in record levels of data transfers and connectivity on game day.
Taylor Swift and Network Capacity
The Seattle Seahawks network throughput is substantial but varies depending on the event and specific moments within a game. Lumen Field’s Wi-Fi network typically sees about 26,000 unique connections, with about 22,000 concurrent connections at any given time.
The amount of data traffic the network handles ranges from six to 10 terabytes (TB), depending on the game. Notably, during significant events like touchdowns, there is a spike in traffic, reaching eight to 10 TB.
Traffic volume is further amplified during special events, such as concerts. For instance, hosting a concert like Taylor Swift’s dramatically increases network usage, pushing the data traffic to high levels, sometimes reaching 24 to 26 TB. Such events significantly test the Seattle Seahawks network’s capacity and reliability, demonstrating its ability to handle exceptionally high traffic.
Constant Improvement for Modernization
Lumen Field is continuously improving the fan experience by adopting innovative technologies. For example, the stadium implemented Clear to expedite entry lanes. Also, in partnership with Amazon, food and beverage concessions have been transformed into stores, allowing fans to pay via biometric palm readers or with a credit card without using a traditional checkout counter. The result is a faster and frictionless service, which has increased revenue at concession sites and strengthened the stadium’s partnership with Amazon.
The upcoming FIFA World Cup 2026 at Lumen Field will pose unique challenges. Although it’s still early and the specific IT requirements for the event are not fully defined, flexibility will be crucial in accommodating the event’s demands. This means being prepared to adapt operational spaces, typically used for storage or parking, for different purposes like Lumen Field security check-ins or ticket validation.
The 22-year-old stadium is undergoing improvements to ensure it remains a state-of-the-art facility. Key to this effort is the commitment to regular maintenance and modernization. Upcoming enhancements include transitioning the stadium’s audio system from analog to digital, which promises to significantly improve sound quality. Additionally, new loudspeakers will be installed to enhance the audio experience for fans. There are also plans to upgrade the bowl and other premium spaces with high-definition screens.
Bottom Line: AI and the Future of Networking
As for generative artificial intelligence, the NFL is cautious in its approach. There has been some experimentation with AI applications such as chatbots for game-day customer service, creating posters using AI-driven artwork, and even using AI for film study analysis in the sports science team. The next steps involve formulating a clear strategy for AI adoption, overseen by a newly formed committee comprising members from legal, data strategy, and other departments.
While AI will play a role in IT networks, even without this emerging technology it’s clear that network infrastructure will continue to face ever greater demands as its usage and bandwidth requirements are continuously challenged. As the experience of Lumen Field demonstrates, the future of enterprise IT will most certainly be network-centric for the foreseeable future.
For more information about generative AI providers, read our in-depth guide: Generative AI Companies: Top 12 Leaders