From the Staff

Column: PNC Arena's tablet ban kept student from doing pregame homework

abranch@newsobserver.comApril 11, 2013 

I was slowly freezing in the first-come, first-served student line outside PNC Arena for the Jan. 12 N.C. State game against then-No. 1 Duke. It was not fun, but at least I had my homework.

Yes. I’m one of “those” students. I’m the weirdo who arrives at least three hours early, brings his homework and drinks from the water fountain to save money.

But more than an hour before the doors open, I’m told I have to take my homework back to my car – it’s on my Kindle, and e-readers are banned.

Tablets are the primary target of the ban, but this was a Kindle Keyboard, an e-reader with no backlight, camera or recording device.

My classmates’ 3,000 or so smart phones – combination e-reader, recorder, video editor and much more – were just fine. I was stuck, though, because I don’t have one.

The best answer from security I got was, “Dude, I agree with you, but I don’t make the rules.”

What others do

I researched more than 25 arenas, stadiums and amphitheaters in the Triangle, state and nation. Most don’t mind tablets, including all major UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke, Greensboro and Charlotte sports venues. Of the no-tablet venues, PNC Arena alone specifically bans e-readers.

New York City’s Madison Square Garden welcomes laptops and tablets. Brooklyn’s new $1 billion Barclays Center bans both.

Larry Perkins, assistant general manager for PNC Arena, said the industry hasn’t yet had time to adapt to tablets. Apple’s iPad, which led the tablet boom, just reached its third anniversary. PNC officials simply banned all tablet-like computers to save themselves the trouble of parsing subtle differences.

“Buildings have been around for a long time. Tablets are new on the market,” Perkins said.

Tablets versus phones

Yes, I am aware that people don’t generally bring tablets to Beyoncé concerts to do homework. Venues such as the Red Hat Amphitheater in Raleigh ban tablets because of their bright screens and video capability.

“There are some (concerts) that require us to staff maybe 50 extra people to stand ... in the seating area,” PNC Arena’s Perkins said. “They don’t want you to bring that phone out at all.”

But you can still take your phone in with you.

While smart phones and tablets perform basically the same functions (but not e-readers, just to reiterate), Perkins said a phone’s primary purpose remains communication.

PNC tenants N.C. State and the Carolina Hurricanes are further complicating the issue. Through FourSquare, Jumbotron picture contests and concession apps, teams encourage fans to use their gadgets’ advanced functions. Teams could easily create in-arena apps to synthesize highlights, scores, interviews and social media for fans in real time.

Perkins acknowledged the potential. But with PNC Arena, the issue really boils down to one thing: its wireless Internet.

The arena does not have the capacity for public Wi-Fi without disrupting media, staff and even in-game entertainment. The cost to upgrade would be between $2 million and $5 million, Perkins said.

“I must admit to you that within two to three years our policies will change because we will have the infrastructure to do it,” he said. “But we’re not there yet.”

I look forward to it. Though I better not still be doing homework.

Andrew Branch, a senior at N.C. State, is interning at The N&O this semester.

Branch: 919-829-4568; abranch@newsobserver.com or Twitter.com/AndrewABranch

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