Teeing Up Wi-Fi Analytics at the Ryder Cup

This week I, like many other golf fans, will have our eyes focused on the Ryder Cup. This tournament defines the best golf team from around the world and the US is hoping to keep the Ryder Cup from taking a trip across the pond for the next 2 years.

Since 1927 the cup has gone back-and-forth across the Atlantic finding it’s home in the U.S. 27 times and in Europe 13 times. The last time it was won by Europe was in 2014, where the cup had lived since 2010. However in 2016, the team lead by Davis Love III brought it back to the United States.

Eager to get their hands back on Samuel Ryder’s trophy, Europe is pulling out all the stops this year. But as technology has evolved, so too has the application of that tech to one of my favorite sports.

Using Technology at a Golf Tournament?

What a lot of golf fans may not be taking into account is the way that teams are being selected this year. Deeper than typical player statistics, scores, and current wins, there is some fantastic technology behind the scenes that the European Tour has been leveraging. In fact, it‘s something that we all use on a daily basis. Proving to be far more valuable to the PGA European Tour than to allow fans to Snap and Gram from the links, are the benefits of location, presence, and data analytics from Wi-Fi.

At HPE Discover 2018, we got a special treat for a breakfast presentation: European Tour and Ryder Cup CTO Michael Cole. The European Tour has an important role as the host of the 2018 Ryder Cup. What was the CTO of golf team doing at HPE Discover? Talking about Aruba wireless and his “Connected Course.”

While there are some baby boomer vs millennial debates about the role and availability of Wi-Fi at Golf events, we won’t touch on that just yet. Instead something much more fascinating to me was discussed.

It Takes a Lot of Hard Working Wi-Fi to Run a Golf Tournament

Statistic after statistic was thrown out on the table about wireless connectivity at sports tournaments by Mr. Cole, whose experience with the Olympic Games for Rio 2016, Pyeongchang 2018, the upcoming Tokyo 2020 & Pan American Games 2019 is nothing to take lightly.

If you consider with this that the European League of which he manages the technology for works on 47 tournaments in 30 countries over 5 continents, his work seems to be a never-ending whirlwind of setup, take down, preparation, and packing. They have on average only 3 days of downtime between events where 90% of tournaments are at at brand new courses.

Insert shameless plug for https://wifistand.com here 🙂

The Wi-Fi is the Infrastructure

Since 90% of the venues they visit are new courses, this means no fiber infrastructure is available for the league to use . Once they get on-site, they have a fiber trenching unit that buries their 11 miles of fiber per event 3 feet underground to be reused. On top of that build, they are responsible for all of the tournament infrastructure at these locations “We have to provide 5 different infrastructures: TV / Broadcast for 40 partners, Tournament TV for 60 fan zones, Public Wi-Fi , Scoring and data collection, and back of house” says Michael Cole. “The biggest challenge is Wi-Fi” as the public expectation these days is that the Wi-Fi will just work, regardless of where they are on the course, and that’s a larger order as the average size of a golf course is 150 acres or the equivalent of 85 football pitches. (Those are soccer fields to us Americans)

Wi-Fi for the Fans

From checking scores to finding where your favorite player is, where the restrooms are and what the schedule is, wireless connectivity and specifically Wi-Fi is changing the way fans navigate golf tournaments.

To keep track of where players are on the course, concepts such as BLE beacons in player’s bags are future potential uses of leveraging the Aruba wireless infrastructure at these events. In addition, using zones and location services provides the ability for targeted advertisements, coupons, promotions and information to be delivered to the crowds.

As important as connectivity is on the course for navigating the tournament, it’s the enabling of services for the fans that makes it critical. In last year’s European events, 4 or more of the events were won by players under the age of 25. Getting those stories out to the world via the channels that the millennial demographic consume, i.e. social media, at the Ryder Cup will be a huge marketing advantage. Enabling that to happen quickly and flawlessly across one of the largest BYOD environments (250,000 fans across 4 days) will be the responsibility of the Aruba Wi-Fi network.

What Infrastructure Does it Take to Build Wi-Fi for the Ryder Cup?

Services for the Ryder Cup started to be commissioned 6 months in advance of the event. Around June 2018 the Aruba Wi-Fi network and switching infrastructure went live at Le Golf National. “It’s quite a significant inventory we have.” says Michael Cole in his interview at HPE Discover 2018. “It’s the biggest investment in technology that we have ever made in the European Tour and the Ryder Cup. We have 30 switches and 700 Access Points all based on the Aruba platform” he continued “It’s more than we have at the Olympic Park.”

A typical environment for the European Tour consists of about 90 Access Points with about 40–50% ubiquitous coverage whereas the are shooting for 85% coverage of the Ryder Cup. If Wi-Fi isn’t available to they rely on the local mobile carrier’s network.

The first test event for this new infrastructure was the 2018 French Open. Acting as a great test-run I’m imaging it gave a quick glimpse into making sure the kinks were worked out for the Ryder Cup. With thousands of fans at the HNA Open de France it was probably a great way spot check the gear as the numbers pale in comparison to the over 50,000 attendees that will be on-hand for the Ryder Cup.

“Data is incredibly important to us”

With the infrastructure ready to go and the equipment humming along how it is supposed to, now we turn to focus on the usage of the technology. What the European League has been doing for the past year and a half or so has been using the wireless network and sensors across the field to collect every bit of data you can possibly imagine regarding a golf tournament.

Data is the new currency

Scoring equates to 20,000 data points alone for one tournament. With an emphasis on new technology and how to use analytics and data, the European League is now collecting 7 times the amount of data they were before coming into this Ryder Cup.

Over 140,000 data points for one tournament are now being collected an analyzed such as club type, lie of the ball, yardage to the hole, weather, and more.

That’s 550 million data points across the 47 tournament schedule for the European League. And that is being extended further. First player to the ball, second player to the ball, timing shots, tracking carts and more will be gathered for insight and intelligence and passed on to players, coaches and the league.

Putting sensors in balls and clubs, however, is a bit out of the way as each player gets to choose their own equipment.

How is the collected data being used?

These mountains of data were pulled together and made available in January 2018 to Thomas Bjorn, the team Captain of the European Ryder Cup. He is using this data to aid in player selection for the 2018 Ryder Cup European Team. The League crafted something called “The Captain’s Dashboard” to synthesize this data and help bring the Ryder Cup back to Europe. It’s no wonder that the PGA apparently scrambled upon hearing this to setup their own partnerships.

Wi-Fi + Golf = Happy Users, Great Data Points, & Maybe a Ryder Cup?

So will it work? Tune in and see. Keep your eyes open for the Aruba Networks Access Points, how long it takes someone to address the ball, and how many people you see using the app. Not that I am cheering for the European Team to take the cup home, but I am cheering for Wi-Fi analytics to make their mark!

Watch the Full Interview About Wi-Fi at the Ryder Cup

Watch the full interview with Michael Cole, brought to you by Geekazine, from HPE Discover 2018 here:

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