Jon Mark Beilue: A Wi-Fi Super Bowl Experience

Feb. 14, 2020

A Wi-Fi Super Bowl Experience

Four WT students parlay local Wi-Fi coaching to SB LIV

WT students as Wi-Fi coaches at Super Bowl.

*Photo from left to right: Beau Robbins, Tina Ward, Matt Webb and A.J. Jagdale were Wi-Fi coaches for Extreme Networks, the Wi-Fi solutions provider of the NFL, at Super Bowl LIV in Miami.

Nothing against West Texas A&M University’s football opener opposing Azusa Pacific in the new Buffalo Stadium in early September, the next home game later that month against Western New Mexico, or any of the Buffs’ six home games in 2019.

It was a new on-campus football environment that showcased modern comforts and a few new bells and whistles. But they weren’t the country’s biggest sporting event of the year, and for this particular year, it wasn’t Super Bowl LIV in Miami.

And for four WT students, among 17, who walked the concourses and milled in the bleachers during the Buffs home schedule, the reward for that work was not to be forgotten.

“It was awesome – absolutely incredible,” said Tina Ward. “I’m still floating on Cloud 9.”

Ward, Beau Robbins, Matt Webb and A.J. Jagdale joined a student from the University of Southern California as Wi-Fi coaches for Extreme Networks, the official Wi-Fi solutions provider for the NFL, at Super Bowl LIV on Feb. 2.

They weren’t in Kansas anymore. Or Canyon, for that matter.

“I’d never been close to anything like this before,” said Webb, a computer information systems major from Amarillo, “so I had nothing really to compare it to. I guess you’d call it some definite electricity there. We were all caught up in the moment. We were there to do a job, but have fun too.”

Those four – and 13 others – spent six Saturdays during the college football season as Wi-Fi coaches at Buff home games. They were among those in IT on campus and through a class on networking in the Paul Engler College of Business taught by James Webb, WT’s Chief Information Officer.

Extreme Networks, the provider for WT football, offered some training before the season to certify the 17 as Wi-Fi coaches and then turned them loose.

Their mission was fairly simple. Each game, in their identifiable Extreme Networks Wi-Fi Coaches shirts, they would split up into teams and roam the stadium.

They weren’t selling anything, but rather informing students as well as adult fans the kind of free and available Wi-Fi in the new stadium through Extreme Networks. It was a free opportunity to enhance the in-game experience in multiple platforms, including gobuffsgo.com that provided game statistics as well as stadium information.

In the season opener, out of nearly 8,000 fans, about 2,000 were online at some point.

“A lot of people asked if they needed a password, but it’s all open,” said Robbins, also a computer information systems major, from Fritch. “We answered questions. We pushed the athletic department app so fans could have everything not only in person but online available to them about the game.”

The Wi-Fi coaches knew at season’s outset that doing the same at the Super Bowl was a possibility, but not until nearing the season’s end was it official. Extreme Networks had never used college students as Wi-Fi coaches in the previous five Super Bowls since it partnered with the NFL, so this would be a first.

‘It blew me away’

The WT Wi-Fi coaches voted on the four who deserved to go, and Robbins, Webb, Ward and Jagdale emerged as the four who flew to Miami on Jan. 31. They, along with James Webb, Matt’s father, and Dave McKenzie, WT’s network services engineer, stayed in the Marriott AC Hotel in Adventura, 6.5 miles from Hard Rock Stadium. Tina Ward as Wi-Fi coach at Super Bowl.

They had a briefing with Extreme on Saturday morning, a tour of the stadium on Saturday afternoon, and a free evening before leaving the hotel around noon on Super Sunday, Feb. 2. For a 6:30 p.m. EST kickoff, they arrived at the stadium around 1:45 p.m.

“We had quite a bit of time to kill,” Webb said, “so we explored the stadium and engaged with workers there. The gates weren’t open yet, but when you looked around the stadium, there were a ton of events around it. There were parties and this massive tent set up. So the area was flooded with people, but the stadium itself was empty. It was kinda weird – the calm before the storm.”

The WT students were in teams – Robbins and Ward, Jagdale and Webb – and their job was almost identical to that at Buffalo Stadium except they were pushing the NFL One Pass app. They could engage with the 62,500 fans in their seats prior to pre-game festivities, but after that and during the game, advertising Extreme Networks’ Wi-Fi was in the concourse only.

“They were more receptive at the Super Bowl than they were at WT, which is really weird,” Ward said. “At WT, they’ll walk directly in front of me and not say a word, or as I’m talking, they’ll walk away. At the Super Bowl, everyone was pretty receptive. The most skeptical question I got was ‘what’s the password?’”

*Photo: For Tina Ward, a Wi-Fi coach at Super Bowl LIV was a memorable experience. "It was awesome," she said. "It was absolutely incredible."

Ward and Robbins talked briefly with rapper Whiz Khalifa, who essentially said thanks, but no thanks. Martha Stewart walked past. The parents of 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman, whose mom had some attire that identified her as such, talked with them a bit.

“But at the time, they were losing,” Ward said, “and they didn’t care for the Wi-Fi.”

But many more did. A spokesperson for Extreme Networks said a record 26.42 terabytes were used – 11.1 before kickoff, 15.32 afterward – an increase of 9.9 percent from 2019’s game and with 10,000 fewer fans. Of 62,417 at Hard Rock Stadium, 44,358 were online users.

“It was pretty cool,” Webb said. “We’d ask them if they knew they could get free Wi-Fi in the stadium and that would lead to where you were from, and they’d be from California or Missouri or Alaska or Canada, all over the world.”

Though they were there for a job, they weren’t completely oblivious with what was on the field, a thrilling 31-20 come-from-behind win for Kansas City. An army of TV monitors in the concourse kept them apprised. They’d duck their heads into section entryways every so often, and all got to see the complete halftime show with Jennifer Lopez and Shakira.

Webb and Jagdale spent most of the game working the upper sections. But near the end of the game, when fan engagement drops off, they made their way to the lower levels as fans.

“We got really close to the 49ers end zone and watched the rest of the game for the last 10 to 15 minutes,” Webb said. “We watched the confetti go up, the celebration on the field. It was great.”

For the four, it was a milestone weekend. It was a resume builder, and for a couple of them, it may influence what they want to do after graduation.

“I had never attended an NFL game before, and to have the first one be the Super Bowl, just blew me away,” Robbins said. “I can’t believe where I was not that many days ago.”

Do you know of a student, faculty member, project, an alumnus or any other story idea for “WT: The Heart and Soul of the Texas Panhandle?” If so, email Jon Mark Beilue at jbeilue@wtamu.edu.

—WTAMU—