Q&A: Mike DeGraw, President & CEO, Horizon Communications

MEI talks to Mike DeGraw, president & CEO of Horizon Communications, a company that specialises in wireless network solutions for sports venues, allowing rights owners to fully engage with their audiences during live event experiences.


Please explain what Horizon does:

“Horizon Communications is a unique company that specialises in large venue technology. When you have venues where tens of thousands of people gather, mobile connectivity is poor and wireless networks generally do not work. Horizon is in the business of designing, installing and managing networks that do work in this environment. This applies to sports stadia and entertainment venues but also shopping malls and campus environments.”


Why is WiFi so important to the future of sporting events?

“Most sporting leagues face the stiffest competition from the sofa. With television coverage of sporting events so widespread, many people choose to stay at home rather than dealing with the challenges of getting to the stadium to watch the game live. A large amount of households have broadband internet at home so if a fan wants to look up statistics of a player or check the results of other matches, it is at their fingertips. The fact that most stadiums do not have functioning WiFi can be very frustrating. Fans are increasingly interested in engaging through social media while watching an event and do not want to wait until after the game to do so. Stadia WiFi can also be instrumental to a sports team to measure fan activity, providing support to concessions and ticket readers as well as security.”


What sets Horizon apart from others?

“Horizon is very unique in that we are a ‘one stop shop’; we design, install and manage the network. We also have the financial resources that enable us to finance the network so rather than handing the venue the keys along with a big invoice, we provide the WiFi as a managed service by charging a monthly recurring fee over a longer term. This becomes an attractive option to clubs that simply don’t have the level of capital required to install a functioning WiFi network. Having no WiFi is better than having bad WiFi, so going with the cheapest option is not necessarily the best solution. Horizon is also neutral when it comes to the hardware manufacturer, enabling us to work with whomever the venue prefers.”


What are the key challenges when installing WiFi and how do you overcome these?

“Nearly all sporting venues, even those built in the past 10 years, did not anticipate the technology explosion that has occurred between social media and smart phones. The challenges we face in retrofitting venues are mainly finding cable pathways and finding room to install equipment throughout the venue. Stadia real estate is also a premium so venues typically won’t allocate much space to technology. Lastly, aesthetics are very important so venues don’t want wireless access points mounted in plain sight. Horizon is expert at identifying pathways, space for equipment and maintaining the visual experience of the venue while still implementing a world class WiFi network.”


What would you say to those sceptical about the need for WiFi?

“There really aren’t many sceptics. Nearly all the venues we speak with want WiFi, it is just a matter of who pays for it. Horizon is working with several partners including sponsors that will greatly offset the cost to a venue. Combined with our financing capability, we have made WiFi affordable for all clubs large and small.”




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