Creating a Lightning-Fast Experience for the Track at New Balance

The new Boston athletic facility opened on April 13, boasting some of the most advanced track and field technology thanks to a network developed by WSP USA.
Jul 28, 2022 10:55 AM ET

The request from the client was a simple one: provide robust WiFi connectivity at a new state-of-the-art indoor sports and concert venue in Boston’s Brighton neighborhood.

WSP’s Innovation Advisory team recognized that there was more to this ask. So, with the facility well positioned for embracing a smart fan experience, the team immediately set out to optimize an already-in-construction facility.

“We took that request and began to illustrate for the developer, and New Balance as naming sponsor, how digital transformation could unlock a variety of new experiences for their fans, athletes and attendees,” said Jaco Cronje, a solutions architect with the WSP Innovation Advisory team. “The opportunity was there to produce new revenue streams and enhance the building’s resilience.”

The result? The Track at New Balance – a 250,000-square-foot indoor athletic facility that features some of the most sophisticated technology ever seen in this type of sports venue. It opened with a celebration on April 13 where a new indoor world record was set by a U.S. women’s distance medley relay team.

The vision and roadmap was well received by the developers, NB Development Group, and subsequently resulted in optimizing of various facility related control systems at the facility, even though the project at that point had already been fully designed and was 80 percent complete.

With this new direction, WSP’s Innovation Advisory service joined the Elkus Manfredi Architects and WSP mechanical-electrical-plumbing engineering (MEP) team to develop the procedures for turning the facility-related control systems and technology platform into an unparalleled feature for The Track. WSP led the operational transition phase in scoping, evaluating and appointing the network managed services vendor as well as the facility’s IT Manager.

As a technology project manager, WSP led all technology aspects, including those outside of the team’s design appointment: internet service provider (ISP) procurement and implementation, track timing and real-time athlete tracking, audio visual systems, hydraulic track banking, parking management, building management, lighting control and electric vehicle charging. WSP’s Building Technology Services team also provided the telecommunications design, electronic video surveillance design and electronic access control design.

Hit the Ground Running

Despite their late arrival to the project (construction six months from completion), Cronje and his team kicked off their involvement with the project by engaging NB Development and several of naming sponsor New Balance’s internal global department heads in workshops to discuss the technology infrastructure.

The first topic at these gatherings: understanding the new and emerging capabilities digital infrastructure could offer.

“We started by explaining our plan for a converged network, using the metaphor of a swimming pool with multiple swim lanes to show how different control systems would be supported by a single network,” Cronje said. “We also emphasized the expanded capabilities and operational resilience introduced through using an enterprise-grade managed network which we proposed rather than multiple basic unmanaged networks.”

Next came prioritizing the capabilities most important to New Balance and NB Development. According to Cronje, the discussions focused on how different user personas — fans, athletes, coaches and event organizers —would make use of high-speed WiFi in the facility, and how New Balance could use the network to derive commercial and operational value with existing and future offers.

“The workshops gave us important insights into what New Balance would be looking for at The Track … not just on day one, but in the future,” Cronje said. “So, we designed the digital platform that delivered both on their day-one requirements within the existing budget and while being capable of upgrades relatively easily in the future to enable additional user experiences.”

Cronje said his team applied Future Ready® principles in designing the tech infrastructure. The connected BMS supports the reduction in carbon footprint supporting responsibly resource management while responding to climate change. The digital platform embraces digital transformation embracing technology as an enabler and differentiator.

The New Balance vision for The Track was achieved through technology that allows:

  • deployment of a robust, high available cybersecure local area network to support operations, fans and broadcasting requirements;
  • high-speed WiFi to maximum occupancy levels that will enable day one streaming connectivity as well as additional future smart fan experiences;
  • secure redundant internet connectivity to support hosting of high-profile events;
  • delivery of leading edge timing systems, video broadcasting, LED videowalls, digital signage and building Management through the facility’s underlying network architecture; and
  • operational insights into building performance, space utilization and fan attendance, through a network platform that unlocks valuable data to the facility operator.

On the Fast Track

Integrating a cutting-edge communications network into a construction project that was already mostly complete forced Cronje and his team to be flexible in how they interfaced with NB Development, the architect Elkus Manfredi, and the general contractor, JMA.

WSP also had to negotiate multiple supply chain disruptions that made procuring anything — let alone sophisticated technology gear — a challenge in the spring and summer of 2021.

“We reached out to manufacturers and distributors to understand what equipment such as network switches and wireless access points was available within project schedule constraints, which we then designed the converged network around,” said Cronje.

The Track at New Balance is part of NB Development’s Boston Landing, a 15-acre mixed use development adjacent to the Massachusetts Turnpike and the New Balance World Headquarters.

The Track at New Balance, which officially opened on April 13, is designed to accommodate up to 5,000 spectators and attendees for a wide range of sports events and conferences, with a separate 3,500-seat music venue.

It features a 200-meter hydraulically banked track that is considered the “technically fastest in the world.” The Track at New Balance joins other showcase athletic buildings at Boston Landing, including official practice facilities for the Boston Celtics and Bruins.

As Cronje and his colleagues on WSP’s Innovation Advisory team anticipated the grand opening event, they were also busy assisting the client’s staff in operationalizing the new technology infrastructure.

“It’s one thing to design all the systems, put the network together, then hand it over,” Cronje said. “But what we’re doing goes way beyond that. We’re developing process flows, take-on procedures for different technology components, policy statements as well as job specifications for the people required to manage the infrastructure. We want to build up the client’s ability and knowledge so they can maximize the functions and features of their investment, delighting fans, athletes and other users while delivering significant income over a long period of time as sports software and user habits evolve.”

This project illustrates how an investment in technology can be a catalyst for change and establish a revenue source for a facility.

“Soon, we will be able to watch and appreciate, from our first-hand involvement, the setting of even more world records at this iconic facility,” Cronje said. With his son being a national level middle-distance runner, Cronje added, “It would be a dream come true on so many levels the day that I sit in the seats of this magnificent facility not as the design engineer but as a parent and a fan of an athlete on this track!”

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