A Behind The Scenes Look At Gillette Stadium’s Cisco IP Fabric For Media Network Transformation

It is 90 minutes from game time on a rainy Sunday in December at Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots, and The Kraft Group CIO Michael Israel has his game face on.

The no-nonsense Israel, known for his high expectations for The Kraft Group IT partners and vendors, is all business as he leads a small group of analysts and journalists on a tour showcasing an IT transformation that has put Gillette stadium into the ranks of the most technologically advanced stadiums in the world.

The tour is a celebration of sorts for the hundreds of thousands of hours that have gone into a massive multimillion-dollar IT makeover overseen by Israel, who manages the IT operations for all of The Kraft Group, including Gillette Stadium, home of The New England Patriots and The New England Revolution soccer team.

Israel, the son of legendary solution provider pioneer Steve Israel, teamed with Acadia Technology Group, a Montclair, N.J.-based Cisco Premier partner, on the IT project that has made Gillette Stadium a showcase for what technology can do to improve fan experience while focusing heavily on streaming video content.

The central nervous system of the transformation driving breakthrough new possibilities for game-day broadcasts and security at Gillette Stadium is a new Cisco IP Fabric For Media network.ADVERTISEMENT

A Visit To SoFi Stadium Sets The Stage For Transformation

Acadia Technology spearheaded the design and implementation of the Cisco network after visiting SoFi Stadium, the Los Angeles home of both the Chargers and Rams football teams, which is hailed as one of the most advanced technology stadiums in the world thanks to its own Cisco IP Fabric for Media network.

“Cisco brought us to SoFi to show us the possibility of a state-of-the-art stadium,” said Acadia Technology Group President Kevin Hynes, recalling the visit two years ago that led to the Gillette Stadium IT transformation. “Michael and I went out there and looked at what the possibilities were.”

With the completion of the project, Gillette became the first NFL stadium to implement the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers 2110 standard for the Cisco IP Fabric for Media, which powers everything from TV broadcasts at Gillette to the largest outdoor high-definition video to hundreds of TV systems throughout the stadium. It all went live last September.

The Cisco IP Fabric is being utilized at blockbuster sporting events like The Super Bowl, The FIFA World Cup and The Olympic Games.

“Everything here from an entertainment perspective—TVs, audio systems, ribbon boards, Daktronics—are all on that [Cisco IP Fabric For Media] network now,” said Israel. “It’s a game changer.”

Israel said he and his IT team are in the process of exploring the full capabilities of the new network. In fact, he said, the network is sure to bring changes to the content that The Kraft Group creates to improve the fan experience. “This is about guest experience, how we change how you interact here, and the quality of the transmissions and everything is rapidly changing” he said.

New Streaming Content Possibilities

One example of the content possibilities provided by the new Cisco IP Fabric For Media was the ability for high school football fans to watch the 2023 Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association State Football Championships on Patriots.com and the Patriots official YouTube channel.

“If you opened the Gillette app you could watch the football game because it was streamed right from the camera out to the Gillette app,” said Hynes, whose company led the architecture and implementation of the network. “You could never have done that before. You can stream any event right from here. Think about the implications of that.”

Israel said the Cisco IP Fabric For Media effectively opens the door for The Kraft Group to produce its own content, which is no small matter given the variety of events—including concerts and corporate meetings—that the stadium hosts each year.

The first stop on the behind-the-scenes stadium tour is a new security and operations command center with row after row of video screens monitoring the stadium. “We have over 500 security cameras in the stadium,” said Israel. “From here, we see all the cameras. We also have ties into local state and fire [departments] so we can see externally what is happening on Route 1 and the roads around the stadium.”

The command center—which went live last September—monitors anything and everything going on in the stadium, with ties into the regional 911 systems and state and local police. In the front row are a crew monitoring stadium operations, parking lots and facilities.

“Anything from a broken seat to a point of sale terminal down, a parking issue, is all coming up front here [on the screens],” said Israel, gesturing to the room full of video screens that looks more like NASA Misson Control than an NFL stadium broadcast command center. “As I walk around the stadium, I look at how can we get more information based on what is happening.”

Cutting Edge AI Systems Ensure Fan Safety

The command center—which also monitors the perimeter and outer perimeter of the stadium—uses cutting-edge AI systems to ensure fan safety.

Gillette uses the Motorola Solutions Avigilon video analytics system—the first stadium to implement that solution—and the IronYun AI system to spot any and all potential threats.

“We have about 13 different use cases doing advanced AI analytics on our video streams,” said Israel. Those advanced AI analytics flag unusual patterns like someone climbing a fence outside the stadium or driving through the parking lot a 3 AM.

“I describe it as when we were kids and Sesame Street would feature a segment called, ‘What In This Square Doesn’t Look Right,’” he said. “The technology looks at the square and says, ‘This camera is supposed to look like this.’ If someone is climbing over a fence, it will grab it and throw it right up on the screen for the command center [to see].”

The new AI technology looks at everything from concession lines to overflowing garbage cans to potential issues in data centers.

Israel, who with a team of about 50 people oversees a diverse set of The Kraft Group holdings, including International Forest Products and 12 cardboard print manufacturing plants, said the AI technology first used at Gillette is also used at The Kraft Group’s Rand-Whitney Containerboard manufacturing facility in Montville, Conn.

Rand-Whitney, which manufactures high quality recycled linerboard, uses the technology to flag different boxes to ensure the proper mix of recycling materials. “Plain brown boxes versus vinyl boxes are a very different mixture,” said Israel. “What the analytics does is monitor bales the size of a Volkswagon as they come off a truck and tells the forklift operator to take that one to the conveyor belt, put that one there, then we can monitor compliance with the mix.”

The use of the technology in the Montville manufacturing plant is a classic case of The Kraft Group’s philosophy of looking at how to use “cool” technology to make all its businesses more efficient, said Israel.

A New Secondary Data Center

The IT makeover at Gillette also includes a new secondary data center, which features Cisco firewalls and networking. The data center is part of an IT infrastructure that features six 10-Gigabit Ethernet network lines and 125 intermediate distribution frame (IDF) racks for interconnections, all redundant.

The systems in the secondary data center also power self-checkout concession areas. “If you go to one of those four concession areas, you just walk in and put your credit card in to make a purchase,” said Israel. “There are about 100 cameras that watch what you are doing.”

The next stop on the tour is one of the most ambitious aspects of the IT transformation: a new stadium broadcast production control room, which was also completed last Fall.

The new production facility has opened the door for The Kraft Group to produce content directly. “Essentially we are able to now in-source all of our production pieces,” Israel said. “There is an ROI, but it is also about quality and where we are looking to go in terms of entertaining our guests.”

The video capabilities of the new network are mind boggling given the ever growing demand for video content from fans, both regionally and around the world.

The technology opens the door to IPTV capabilities that could tie directly into the 3,000 TVs that are directly attached to the network.

“Everything associated with entertaining our guests is now running into the Cisco network,” said Israel. “So we have taken items that historically have been off-network, like analog audio systems and Daktronics [scoreboard] legacy systems, basically anything audio, video and entertainment-wise is all being incorporated into the Cisco network.”

Israel has also overseen the critical security compliance issues that come with the new network. “What goes off in my head is GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and all the security components that come with this,” he said.

Strict Procedures For Security Are Enforced

Given that all of the stadium systems—including ribbon boards and scoreboards—are now discoverable on an IP network, there are strict procedures for security that are enforced, said Israel.

Those rigorous security procedures were brought to bear by Acadia and Cisco Advanced Services. “Cisco and Acadia have helped and showed us how to do this,” said Israel. “I had to bring extra staff from my side to monitor the environment.”

The next stop on the tour is a control room with a dedicated team working on The Kraft Group’s Foundation To Combat Anti-Semitism. The huge wall-size screen with a real-time dashboard at the center of the operation monitors 300 million data sources including social media platforms such as X (Twitter) for antisemitism and hate speech, said Rotem Leiba, a research associate for The Foundation To Combat Anti-Semitism.

The Foundation uses Brandwatch social media monitoring software to identify hate speech. “It looks at top hashtags, top phrases, so we can see the trends,” said Leiba. “We use this basically to inform our work at the foundation to do our best to combat what is going on online.”

As for what were the keys that led to the big bet on the Cisco network as the engine for the Gillette Stadium IT transformation, Israel credits the strong partnership with the Cisco team as one of the big differentiators.

“Previous to my work here at The Kraft Group, I have had a very long relationship with Cisco,” he said. “Looking at some of the other players who are in the market, they were traditionally broadcast vendors. We were looking for a vendor that could work with us to bridge our business side to this side [the Gillette stadium experience]. So it was really from the onset a partnership with the Cisco team because anytime we are producing content, it has got to be stored on our servers. It has to got to be crossing over into our [Microsoft Active Directory] environment. It was really bringing their expertise and saying, ‘How do I link those pieces together?’ The other players we were looking at were traditionally broadcast players and I wasn’t as comfortable bringing them into our core business.”

With the tour of the IT operations coming to a close, Israel and his team of eight IT staff members onsite for the game are ready to make sure everything runs smoothly, from the security and operations center to the broadcast center to the 900 point of sale terminals to the 3,000 TVs, all of it connected ot the Cisco IP Fabric For Media network. “If something goes red, we are out there,” he said. “I have a very good team.”

As for the future, Israel points out that he and his team already have their sights on the the seven FIFA World Cup games that will take place at Gillette stadium in 2026. “We’re already starting to plan for it,” he said.

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