Jul 19, 2012 9:28 AM by AP
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Fans coming to the Super Bowl in New Orleans in February should be able to get onto their Wi-Fi devices with more ease.
On Wednesday the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District Board approved spending $343,200 on expanding the Wi-Fi network for the Superdome, the New Orleans Arena and nearby Champions Square.
The Times-Picayune reports that the board approved the upgrade to get the Superdome ready for the Super Bowl.
Doug Thornton, the senior vice president of SMG, the firm that manages the Superdome and the Arena, said the Superdome will join Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium as the only venues in the NFL to offer complete Wi-Fi coverage to patrons.
"We want to get it done before the Super Bowl so when people from around the world come into the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, they're able to connect to Wi-Fi as well as use their wireless carrier for cell service and we don't get overloaded," Thornton said.
Thornton said the National Football League may require expanded Wi-Fi coverage at stadiums and arenas in the near future anyway.
"So we feel like we're ahead of the curve a little bit here," he said.
Lucas Oil Stadium has Wi-Fi technology in part because it was an initiative for Super Bowl XLVI, which was hosted in Indianapolis.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell discussed the topic of stadium Wi-Fi during league meetings in May. The commissioner said the league wants fans to be able to have access to social media, play fantasy football, watch highlights and enjoy other features that require Wi-Fi.
"We're excited and we really think the fans will get to enhance their experience by using Wi-Fi in the stadium," Board Chairman Ron Forman said.
After Hurricane Katrina, the Superdome put $8 million toward a wireless system that focused on hot-spots necessary for ticket scanning, vending and other stadium uses. With that $8 million, there were 600 access points installed. The expansion plan will increase that number to around 1,000 access points, providing even more coverage.
Over the last few years, Thornton said both the New Orleans Arena and Superdome have seen a dramatic increase in smartphone use during games. Thornton said when New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees broke the single-season passing yards record, an unprecedented number of patrons were using their smartphones.
"You've got 20 or 30,000 people trying to access their Facebook page or send out a photograph and that is a new phenomenon," he said.