You’ll soon be able to get free access to the web when you go to a concert or sporting event at Intrust Bank Arena.
Arena and Sedgwick County officials hope to install a public Wi-Fi system by October. It’s an attempt to address a common source of frustration for arena-goers months before hosting the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament in March 2018.
“Everybody has a smartphone and everyone expects to be able to walk into a facility and jump on the Internet,” said A.J. Boleski, the arena’s general manager. “It’s definitely a trend in the industry.”
The Eagle asked its Facebook followers about their experiences with cellphone service or Internet access while at the arena. More than 250 people commented in response.
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They used words like horrible, terrible, awful and non-existent to describe current access to internet and cellphone service at the arena, comparing the venue to a cave, a desert island, nuclear bunker or a black hole.
Many guests complained about being unable to post to social media during events or having their cellphone batteries’ drain rapidly as their device searches for a signal in vain. Some who attended a Miranda Lambert concert in April 2012 recalled failing to reach family members during a tornado warning for the Wichita area.
Justin Londagin has had many experiences with a lack of Wi-Fi and cell service while attending arena events.
“Every event has been full of frustration,” he wrote in an e-mail. “Wi-Fi has never been an option, as every signal is password protected.”
He said he has also attended events at BOK Center in Tulsa, the Sprint Center in Kansas City and other arenas, and “all of them have found solutions to these issues, with most offering free, fast Wi-Fi. (Intrust Bank Arena) has no excuses.”
But Londagin said he knows it can get better because the arena has worked hard to resolve other issues, like improving security wait times and controlling crowd flow.
Others said they try making a point of turning their phone off or putting it in airplane mode for an event.
“If you can shut your phone off for a…2 hour movie, why not a concert or sporting event?” asked Janell Whitted.
‘Enhance that guest experience’
Boleski said the arena has honed in on public Wi-Fi in the past several years as more stadiums add it to their facilities. The arena now has a small Wi-Fi network, for internal use by those running concerts or sporting events, but no public Wi-Fi.
“It’s just another amenity ... that’s going to enhance that guest experience,” he said.
Boleski said public Wi-Fi and better cellphone service were among the top things visitors want at the arena.
“We’re trying to address both of those prior to the tournament in 2018,” Boleski said. “Every other event that comes into the building is going to benefit as well.”
Parts for the new system should start arriving next month, said county public information officer Kate Flavin. Cox Communications will install the system in August and September.
The total cost will be about $1.2 million over three years, starting with $385,375 this year, she said.
The money will come from reserves left over from the sales tax that originally built the arena. Those reserves fund infrastructure improvements at the arena, like the ongoing remodel of the stadium’s entrance closest to Old Town. That project should also wrap up before next year’s March Madness.