Ten years ago, the Colts defeated the Bears, 29–17 in Super Bowl XLI before an iPhone-free audience. It wasn’t until that spring when Apple fans camped out to score the first iPhone, with Android launching later that year.
Fast-forward to 2017 and the game has changed. The excitement of Super Bowl LI played out in front of a smartphone-enabled audience and, according to the Official Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi Analytics Provider for the event, Extreme Networks, it proved to be the most connected one-day event of record.
This isn’t hard to believe—a Deloitte study reported that Americans check their phones eight billion times a day. Yes, we’re hooked. What’s interesting is how a milestone event such as the Super Bowl can offer a bird’s eye view into how we’re hooked. This is a story told in numbers and, thanks to Extreme (and summarized in the infographic below), we have that data.
Let’s start with the volume. According to Extreme’s analytics platform, a whopping 11.8 terabytes of data traversed the Wi-Fi network during Super Bowl LI. For those of us who glaze over when it comes to data metrics, that’s about 5,130 hours of HD Netflix streaming or nearly 3.4 million songs. It’s also nearly double the data reported for Super Bowl XLIX, a significant jump in just a two-year period.
But what’s happening with all this connectivity? Social media was the top activity, with 14 percent of data attributed to fans scrolling and tapping their way through the network feeds. Facebook and Snapchat dominated, collectively comprising 10 percent of that activity. (Instagram and Twitter might want to make note that Snapchat jumped from last place to second in just one year.)
Overall, social activity increased 55 percent from the previous year, a jump that Extreme attributed in part to the availability of live video broadcasting tools like Facebook Live.
Increased reach beyond the stadium
The data also showed that more fans took advantage of the free Wi-Fi at and around the game this year. At peak, there were 27,191 concurrent users, with 49 percent of attendees joining the Wi-Fi network. This is up 41 percent from last year.
It’s also worth noting that Extreme’s connectivity wasn’t limited to NRG Stadium but was also available at the NFL Headquarters (within Houston’s Marriott Marquis), House of Blues and the nine-day Super Bowl LIVE event downtown. So, in addition to connecting over 143,000 fans as well as NFL owners, players and staff and transferring 20.52 terabytes of data across its Wi-Fi network during Super Bowl LI week, Extreme’s network also enabled attractions like Journey to Mars.
The increase in the number of smartphones can contribute to the growth of Wi-Fi users at the event, though, as market intelligence provider IDC has reported, the velocity of smartphone adoption is leveling out.
Another key factor may be awareness of the option for free Wi-Fi service. Consumers—and particularly the hyper-connected social storytelling types—are sensitive to network congestion at highly populated events and may be more likely to seek out alternatives. In fact, that which may be considered a perk right now (free Wi-Fi) may soon fall into the realm of expectation for major events.
Where is it heading?
With the next Super Bowl eleven months away, there’s plenty of time for surprises when it comes to trends in connected behavior. It’s reasonable to assume that social media will continue to dominate, but will Facebook continue to lead the way? How will the recent launch of Instagram Live impact the rankings? And is it possible that another platform could come in at the last minute, Patriots-style, and change the game?
This is all a far cry from 2007’s flip phones, but it’s still just the beginning. Live broadcasting, along with virtual and augmented reality, is still in the novelty stage; we can expect that these and other technologies will be more integrated into the game experience in the coming years. For example, imagine 360-degree views of the field, or haptic technology that allows audiences to experience the sensation of a tackle (in moderation, hopefully), and the eventual blurring of the in-person and at-home experience.
Whatever’s in store, it’s safe to say that this year’s record-breaking connectivity will not hold that record for long.