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Streamlining Data Storage at the 49ers’ Homefield

Levi’s Stadium consolidates disparate data silos to further futureproof its services and boost operational efficiency.

With NFL teams back on the field and fans returning to the stands, the team behind the scenes at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., is tightening up its data game by adopting a consolidated storage resource.

Jim Mercurio, executive vice president and general manager at Levi's Stadium, says they turned to hybrid cloud data storage company Qumulo to deliver upgrades and updates to data storage for security camera footage and other demands. “We needed to find a way to consolidate some of the storage that unbeknownst to me was really siloed at the time,” he says. “To be able to eliminate five racks of equipment and not have 54 verticals or silos that could be difficult to manage, allows you to expand your other kind of resources.”

The stadium ingests upwards of 44 terabytes of data per day, he says, which includes video, video analytics, as well as safeguarding the team’s historical photography accumulated over the years. Prior to tapping Qumulo to consolidate storage, data captured at the stadium was a bit spread out.

Mercurio says a goal when Levi’s Stadium, homefield of the San Francisco 49ers football team, opened in 2014 was to make the venue one of the first of its generation in terms of technology. “We really focused on futureproofing this stadium as best we can,” he says. Several years on, eventually there came a need to reassess how some of that technology was implemented. Furthermore, the old data storage resource was approaching end-of-life. That led to Qumulo being brought in, Mercurio says. “We said, ‘Hey, we’ve got 54 different kinds of verticals of storage here -- can you help us with this?’”

With the current NFL season underway, he is eyeing possibilities for next year as the country continues to reorient in light of the pandemic. The stadium might see 10 to 12 NFL games in 2022, Mercurio says, plus another four to five large-scale events such as concerts and soccer games. Special events hosted at the stadium, which can be smaller-scale meetings with 30 people to corporate holiday parties with 2,500 attendees, might number more than 100 to 200 in a year under more normal circumstances. “We have likened ourselves to a midsize convention center,” he says. Though the pandemic put a wrinkle in everyone’s operations, Mercurio says Levi’s Stadium is looking ahead to the resumption of catered and special events it would host.

Activity at the stadium extends beyond the NFL games, with Levi’s Stadium serving as office space for operations such as security, public relations, broadcasting, and marketing. There may be more possibilities ahead for the data and information captured at the venue, Mercurio says. “The next phase I think I could see us moving into is game video footage for coaches and things of that nature.” The transition to consolidated data storage can help keep that data protected along with other business use cases. “Stadiums are no longer just used for Sundays at 1 o’clock,” he says. “These are buildings that are used constantly and not just for sports; for non-NFL events.”

When creating a technology game plan for Levi’s Stadium, Mercurio says it was important to go beyond new innovations just for the sake of it. Finding tech resources to help solve problems became the focus, he says. For example, there was some prior debate about whether the stadium would use turnstiles to control entry. “We chose handheld devices as a result,” Mercurio says. That plan has since evolved. This year Levi’s Stadium instituted turnstile, self-service kiosks that can scan and can be one frictionless technology used by ticketholders.

The buildup of data from an ever-growing stream of sources drove Levi’s Stadium to continue adapting its digital landscape. “That technology impacts your Wi-Fi needs, your storage needs, your communication needs, your infrastructure needs,” Mercurio says. “The draw on data storage for facial recognition is so massive.” With security measures such as magnetometers, facial recognition, and license plate readers becoming more intrinsic to running such venues, it heightens demand to consolidate data and for the IT team to have a substantial role in operations, he says.

Data and analytics are more appreciated now from a business perspective, Mercurio says, for decision-making and better understanding demographics of who is in the stadium and tailor offerings to them to reduce wasteful costs and increase revenue. “It gives you opportunities to streamline things and the [food] menu items your customers actually want,” he says. “Data allows you to do that.”

Mercurio says the transition to Qumulo is still underway and thus far has been rather seamless. The move offered flexibility, he says, while also addressing cybersecurity concerns. It also helped the ongoing collaborative efforts among stadium operations that include guest services, food and beverage, security, grounds crew, engineers, business and analytics, legal, and finance. “Whatever you can do to improve the guest experience and service, the 49ers and Levi’s Stadium are committed to doing that,” he says.

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