Progressive Field's Wi-Fi and cellular networks get a major upgrade

7 April 2017

The Indians on Wednesday unveiled what's new at Progressive Field for 2017 — a list that includes LED lights, an expanded partnership with the Cleveland Clinic, remodeled party suites that can accomodate a group of 240, the addition of Market Garden Brewery to Section 133, plus a few more enticing food options.

An item that didn't get much attention during the Tribe's presentation, though, was among the most intriguing.

The Wi-Fi and cellular networks at the 23-year-old ballpark have undergone some major upgrades, which is good news for anyone who texts, tweets, posts and downloads during a game. (Cue all the "Doesn't anyone watch the game anymore?" comments.)

Neil Weiss, the Tribe's senior vice president of technology and chief information officer, told us Major League Baseball now owns the Wi-Fi system and has done the upgrades at the ballpark, in collaboration with the Indians.

In 2014, the Tribe partnered with Verizon, which installed a Distributed Antenna System and Wi-Fi network prior to the season. At the time, Progressive Field had 460 Wi-Fi access points, and Verizon was the only cell phone provider that was part of the DAS network.

The latter is key for anyone who uses his or her cell phone signal before attempting to access a Wi-Fi network. (In 2014, Weiss estimated that represented about 75% to 80% of the fans at a game — a number that likely has dwindled over the years.)

Thus, fans who have another major carrier might not have had a strong signal in the ballpark.

That should change this season.

Weiss said more than 100 Wi-Fi access points and antennas have been added, "so we are covering some areas better and also covering some areas that previously had no coverage." And the technology features what the Tribe's CIO calls the "latest and greatest Cisco antennas/access points."

The Wi-Fi is open to everyone — just look for the "IndiansWiFi" network on your phone.

In addition, AT&T and T-Mobile joined the DAS network last year, which means the nation's three largest carriers — comprising about 84% of all cell phone users, according to Statista — are included at Progressive Field. Sprint, which accounts for about 14% of the nation's cell-phone market, according to Statista, is the lone member of the big four providers that isn't part of the DAS network. Weiss, though, said Sprint's Northeast Ohio presence isn't as large as it is nationwide, and the company generally doesn't join such networks at ballparks.

The club's CIO said about half of the 30 ballparks are running on MLB's Wi-Fi system, whether that system was built from scratch by MLB or it's been modified (as the Indians' has).

Every sports team has obvious incentives to make sure their stadium, arena or ballpark Wi-Fi system is top-notch, and MLB has additional motivations, since its popular At Bat and Ballpark apps require strong networks in crowded areas. (The latter is free, but the At Bat app requires a subscription of $2.99 per month or $19.99 for a year.)

The Tribe's timing is appropriate, since strong Wi-Fi and cellular networks are even more crucial this year, with the club's ticket sales almost four months ahead of schedule.

Aside from the tasty new food options (we highly recommend the veal parmesan sliders, which will be available in Section 113 and in the Terrace Club this season), two more highlights from Wednesday's media gathering were the party suites and the Tribe's expanded partnership with the Clinic.

Cleveland Clinic, which has provided care to fans at the ballpark for the last 15 years, is now the exclusive health care provider of the Tribe. The Clinic also is the presenting partner of and the Tribe's radio network, and is partnering with the club's four community impact programs — Kluber's Kids, Edwin's Squad, Friends of Francona and the Cleveland Indians Wives Association.

The ballpark's makeover the last couple years now includes the renovation of 11 upper-level suites along the third-base line. Those areas were converted into six party suites, which can hold groups ranging from 24 to 240.

Again, the Indians' timing, to quote the great Larry David, is pretty, pretty good.