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The Interview Series--Technology and Soccer: How It Works in Colorado Springs

Do Technology and Soccer mix? In Colorado Springs they do.

The Interview Series is an occasional series where we talk with fans, front office personnel and players to hear about their experience with playing professional soccer in Colorado.  Here is our latest installment.

The Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC are a second year professional soccer organization that plays in the USL and are located just 80 minutes south of Denver where they offer a family friendly soccer experience.  The United Soccer League (USL) is (currently) the third level of US Soccer and features teams throughout the United States and offers some of the most competitive and exciting professional soccer that can be found North America.

The Switchbacks have partnered with Extreme Networks to provide a top class WiFi experience at Switchbacks Stadium which enables fans to access a WiFi network (opposed to using data on their phones).  Imagine:

Going to a match, and not having to use data.  And more importantly having a network that allows fans to use the internet to share their experience, but without the hiccups that can be experienced at other facilities.  It is an interesting question: should you be at a match to watch the game and only the game or should the internet be integral part of the experience?

Some background first:

The Switchbacks were looking to have a network available at their stadium that would allow fans to interact with the team and share their experience with social media, but also allow their staff at the stadium to have a top notch network.  This network would need to be able to run their POS systems flawlessly and allow the front office to, well, run the experience and the team with a network that worked.  Enter Extreme Networks as the partner to make this possible.

I had a chance to speak with James Ragain, Director of Operations at the Switchbacks about the technology that is available at Switchbacks Stadium and why they wanted to do this.  Here is that conversation:

Burgundy Wave:  How did the partnership with Extreme start?

James Ragain: It started great. They were highly motivated to work with us, as they have worked with a lot of other professional sport businesses. We love working with motivated companies because the end result will be a great product and for us that means a great experience for the Switchback fan.

BW:  Why would the Switchbacks want this partnership?

JR: Right off the bat, experience. We are a small stadium of 4,500 people but they have worked with stadiums that seat up to 80,000 fans and delivered a good product, so we were confident they would deliver for us.

BW:  Should coming to a game be about watching the game and not using the internet to post stories, tweets, pictures, etc?

JR: First, I'm not for or against what any one fan wants to do inside our stadium as long as it's a positive experience for them and not negative to anyone around them. What we have all seen the last several years is how people like to share their life experiences through social media. Our main concern is once the fan is inside the stadium that they are making lasting memories. We want to cultivate a culture for the Switchback fan and run by the Switchback fan and I believe that part of that is done through social media.

BW:  What are some of the technical challenges you have run into with this?

JR: We are lacking many facilities a bigger stadium would have, so we had to be strategic in how we placed our AP's to be able to reach all fans inside the stadium but also not create the negative visuals that can come from stadium systems.

BW:  In coming to a game, your POS system seems to be quiet, reliable and fast. Is this a direct result of the network and was this a consideration for you when choosing the partnership?

JR: Yes, our POS system has run very well and a big part of that is due to the network. After finishing the design with our technology design engineer our biggest concern was finding someone who could deliver the final product.

BW:  What does the phrase "Extreme Networks were the only vendor that wanted to truly partner with the Switchbacks" mean?

JR: It means that they see the value in working with us when others might not. The sports industry is a highly competitive industry and when one organization can partner with the right business' to make them successful, many other business' in their network or the sports industry itself will follow suit in those partnerships.

BW:  How do you market this to fans (I have been to games and never heard of this)

JR: We currently do not market this partnership to fans. We market this to business' in articles similar to what you're doing and in our connections to the sports and business industry.

BW:  The STH base is up 50% from last year. Why is this? Is it the network, the play on the pitch?

JR: It's a lot of things. First, the play on the pitch is definitely huge. Our guys have been playing great soccer and that's fun to watch. Our team on the Front Office side is coming together nicely as well. Without a reliable network inside the stadium our numbers on all sides of the business would be hurt.

BW:  What are the future goals for the partnership?

JR: As you mentioned in the question above, you have never heard of this partnership. I would like this to change to the point that everyone inside the stadium knows Extreme Networks is partnered with the Switchbacks FC.

So what does all this mean for the average soccer fan?  I think a lot of it is about experience at the field.  How does soccer differentiate itself from the other sports?  Soccer is a sport that is built on very passionate and loyal fanbases and if having a wireless network that allows the team to connect more with its fans and offer a terrific experience for those fans, it behooves them to make that happen.  And in Colorado Springs they are on their way to making that a reality.