Feb 5, 2021 - Technology

Tech preparations for a very different Super Bowl

picture of a phone with fast internet

Photo: Verizon

Due to the pandemic, this year's Super Bowl is different from any past championship game. And tech is playing a big role.

The big picture: You'll need a smartphone just to get in the door, as there are no paper tickets. Concessions are also mobile payment only — no cash.

What's changed this year? "Everything," says Michelle McKenna, the NFL's chief information officer.

Among the differences:

  • Only 25,000 fans will be allowed, including 7,500 vaccinated healthcare workers. People will be seated directly next to only those in their party, with space between other groups.
  • The halftime entertainment will also look and feel different, McKenna said, because of how the league had to deal with the acts given the pandemic. She declined to go into more detail, not wanting to spoil the show.

Verizon, which spends a bundle to be a league sponsor, will also use the event as a showcase for its high-speed millimeter-wave flavor of 5G.

  • It invested $80 million to upgrade Raymond James Stadium and its surrounds, including laying 60 miles of fiber in and around the stadium, according to Verizon executive vice president Tami Erwin.
  • Those at the game will be able to access Verizon's high-speed network and watch any of seven camera angles on their mobile devices.

Other carriers have also upgraded for the big game.

  • T-Mobile has added its mid-band 5G to key parts of Tampa and both midband and even faster millimeter-wave 5G at the stadium itself. It also plans to advertise on TV during the game.
  • AT&T says it has invested $75 million in the Tampa area over the last 18 months, including adding millimeter-wave to Raymond James Stadium and parking lots, as well as in parts of downtown Tampa, Busch Gardens and Tampa International Airport.
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