Super Bowl MVP Is ... Technology

ARLINGTON, Texas. (TheStreet) -- The 95,000 people expected to pack Cowboys Stadium for Super Bowl XLV on Sunday may have their eyes glued on Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers, but the technology infrastructure within the $1.2 billion arena also deserves star billing, if you ask Dallas Cowboys CIO Pete Walsh.

"I don't think there's anything that rivals where we are today," he told TheStreet. "This is setting the bar pretty high."

With 261 miles of fiber and 6 million feet of copper, the stadium's core tech backbone is more akin to that of a small city than a sports facility; the Cowboys' home is full of gear from tech heavyweights like Hewlett-Packard ( HPQ), Cisco ( CSCO), Sony ( SNE) and VMware ( VMW).

In addition to one of the world's most sophisticated scoreboards, fans converging on Cowboys Stadium can follow the action on 3,000 high-def TV screens and can utilize the new Super Bowl app -- which works on Apple's iPhone, iPad and on Google Android smartphones -- to navigate the stadium to find food, drink and hot gathering spots.

Read on for more details on how technology will power Super Bowl XLV.

What's the Score?

One of the most notable features of Cowboys Stadium is its gigantic scoreboard. Dubbed the "Jerry-Tron" in honor of Cowboys' owner Jerry Jones, the huge, 72 feet by 160 feet screen is touted as the world's largest high-def TV.

Built by Japanese tech giant Mitsubishi, the scoreboard contains 30 million LED lights and hangs 90 feet above the center of the pitch, where it was famously struck by Tennessee Titans' punter A.J. Trapasso in 2009. The incident prompted a minor media kerfuffle over the height of the scoreboard, which stands at 5 feet above the NFL minimum.

Punters Jeremy Kapinos (Pittsburgh) and Tim Masthay (Green Bay) will be hoping to steer clear of the enormous screen on Sunday.

TV Heaven

The Cowboys' home is equipped with almost 3,000 Sony high-def TVs linked via Cisco's Stadium Vision networking technology. Stadium Vision, which is also employed at the New Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey, is used to distribute content across the Cowboys' vast network of IPTVs, according to Walsh.

The technology, which uses Internet infrastructure to deliver TV and other services, offers a greater degree of flexibility than traditional broadcast technology.

"I think we have the largest IPTV deployment in the world right now -- Stadium Vision allows us to target any one of the 3,000 TVs to put any type of content on it," said Walsh, adding that this can be done on a screen-by-screen basis. "It could be a menu for a concession stand or a message from an advertiser."

"We also have an opportunity to split the screens to run a video on one part of it, as well as a ticker giving stats or game feeds, and an advertisement," he said.

The CIO says that the network of IPTV screens is crucial when other events are taking place at Cowboy Stadium. "It allows us to transform the venue from a football game to a concert, to a boxing match or a high school football game," he said. "It's like changing the playlist on your iPod."

Super Bowl App

Aimed at helping Super Bowl attendees navigate their way around the stadium as well as general football fans find out nuggets of pre-game and game-day information, the NFL Super Bowl app was launched last week.

"This is really the first app that we have launched that is trying to make the whole Super Bowl week a more holistic experience," said Hans Schroeder, the NFL's senior vice president of media, strategy and development. "It lets the fans know where all the events are happening around the Dallas area, obviously culminating in the game on Sunday."

The Super Bowl XLV Official Guide offers an interactive map that's overlaid with information on key events such as media day and the Super Bowl rally. "If a user is interested in an event, they tap on it, and the app 'flies' them to the location on the map," said Pat McCormack, general manager of the NFL's wireless business, adding that dozens of events are listed.

For game day, the app will provide a 3D map of Cowboys Stadium, as well as the ability to find the most convenient parking lot and entrance for a specific seat.

"When you look at what this provides in terms of making game day a better experience, I could see this as something that we do for all our stadiums down the road," said Schroeder.

The NFL is also offering the game day program for free download. Last year the program could be downloaded onto smartphones, although this year's offering is also available for tablets.

Wireless

Fans inside the closed-roof stadium and tailgaters braving the current north Texas chill will reap the benefits of a sophisticated wireless network on Sunday, according to the Cowboys.

"We have built a distributed antenna system," said Walsh. "We have AT&T ( T), Verizon ( VZ) , Sprint ( S) and MetroPCS ( PCS) connected into our antenna system to provide cell coverage."

Additionally, AT&T provides Wi-Fi coverage, with the network of just under 1,000 antennas extending beyond the stadium itself.

"We cover all the parking lots -- fans like their fantasy football, their stats and everything else," said the CIO, who expects a massive amount of pictures to be sent from smartphones during the Super Bowl. "There's not a lot of stadiums that have that type of bandwidth and that type of capability."

Tech Backbone

Walsh told TheStreet that 500 HP servers provide the stadium's technology backbone, more than three quarters of which are virtualized using VMware software. About 300 of the servers are blades, ultra-thin servers which reduce the amount of space needed in the data center.

A significant number of Cisco switches and routers provide networking connectivity, added the CIO, explaining that there are almost 40,000 networking ports inside Cowboys stadium. "On game day, we have a little over 100,000 people inside and outside the building," he said. "We have to provide all the communications for them; all the concession stands have to be linked up and we're scanning tickets in the parking lot."

HP's StorageWorks Enterprise Virtual Arrays (EVAs) are also deployed within the stadium's data center,using virtualization technology to quickly shift data from one place to another. The Cowboys are using HP's Insight Manager software, which lets them control both servers and storage from a single screen, along with tools they have developed themselves.

"When we started designing the stadium, our eye was not just on Cowboys football, but on large events like the Super Bowl," added Walsh. "This is pretty much what we had in mind -- we will get our test on Sunday."

--Written by James Rogers in New York.

>To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/jamesjrogers.

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