Better Kinnick cell service expected for football season

U.S. Cellular, Verizon and AT&T are paying to be part of a UI distributed antenna system

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IOWA CITY — For many football fans, it’s not enough to watch the action on the field. They want to take photos or video and text friends watching the game at home.

In past years, people watching games at Kinnick Stadium have had miserable wireless service because of too much cell traffic in the 70,000-seat stadium.

“Getting a transmission out of the stadium is sketchy,” said Derrick Richmann, 34, of Marion. “I’d say 50 percent of my messages are dropped.”

But starting Sept. 2 for Iowa’s season opener against Wyoming, Kinnick will have increased capacity for smartphone use because of a new distributed antenna system. U.S. Cellular, Verizon and AT&T have signed contracts and paid fees to be part of the system, so customers of those companies will see improved service at football games, said Steve Fleagle, UI associate vice president and chief information officer.

The UI now owns antenna systems at Kinnick, UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital and Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Service provider fees will pay for Connectivity Wireless Solutions to operate and maintain the networks, Fleagle said.

The Kinnick project involves more than 200 additional antennae, including many located on 25 new flagpoles around the top of football stadium, UI Athletics reported.

Texting, tweeting or web searching during breaks in the action at a college game is part of a “second screen” trend seen across most age demographics, but particularly with millennials.

Up to 87 percent of consumers surveyed by Accenture in 2015 said they were using TV and a second screen together. People watching a TV show may use their phones to look up actors or see what people are saying on social media about a particularly juicy episode.

At least 60 percent of at-home NFL viewers were looking at another device while watching professional football games, according to an NFL executive quoted in a 2014 GeekWire story.

“You can literally see the spikes in tweet traffic that are perfectly coordinated with interesting moments in the game,” Dick Costolo, then Twitter CEO, said in the story.

Richmann, the Marion Hawkeye fan, has missed only two UI home football games in 29 years. He likes to text with friends watching the games at home to tell them what he’s seeing in the stands, celebrate a great play or commiserate about a blunder. Other fans post selfies or pictures of the kids posing with Herky.

“We see that sort of behavior between classes,” Fleagle said about people pulling out their phones during short spurts of downtime. “People use their screens frequently.”

The UI has been trying to improve wireless service at athletic venues for several years, signing a contract with American Tower Corp in 2013 to develop networks at Kinnick and Carver. The UI terminated the deal in 2015, saying ATC failed to finish the project on time. The company sued the UI and the Board of Regents for breach of contract. That trial is scheduled for Jan. 22 in Polk County.

l Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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