The Wireless Ball Park - Page 2
October 03, 2003
The benefits from the network came first on the business side, though, not the entertainment side. There are two key applications: wireless control of lighting and heating, ventilation and air condition (ing HVAC) systems, and wireless scanning of tickets at turnstiles.
At every game the field's engineering staff get up to 15 requests to make changes to lighting or HVAC systems. Both systems were already computer controlled.
When a request came in by cell phone to one of the engineering staff - who are typically out around the field during a game -- they had to walk back to the control room and either manually flip a switch or turn a dial, or use the computer console to do it.
With the application Mackani and his team developed, the engineers now carry wirelessly-enabled PDAs. If they get a call to turn the heat up or down in a corporate box, they can make the adjustment using the PDA, and see the results -- the temperature going up or down in the box -- right on their PDA screen, from wherever they are.
"It uses the existing computer control system," Mackani explains. "But we had to build the connectivity layer from the PDA back to that system. The software they were using obviously wasn't originally built to be used from a PDA. So we developed that."
It's a cool application, and it pays real business dividends. Engineering staff now no longer have to make a 20-minute round trip from wherever they're working to the control room and back and response time to requests is much quicker.
"There's a real savings from that," says Ledford. "The question is, how much did responding to those requests pull our engineering people away from the other things we need them to be doing. There's also a real customer service win because they can respond immediately and then monitor to make sure what they did actually had the desired effect."
The ticket scanning application is a little more speculative -- and apparently hasn't been put to much use yet. The idea is to use a bar code reader-equipped wireless device to scan tickets as fans enter at the turnstiles, and then feed the resulting data to various systems. How this will benefit the River Cats is a little less obvious.
Mackani says the club can use the data to monitor how the field is filling up at game time. For example, if the data showed that one section was filling faster than others, creating traffic jams or staff shortages at concession booths, the club could take action.
Ledford suggests cumulative data could be used to do analysis on which season ticket holders are consistently missing a significant portion of games. When such a fan is identified, the club can proactively go to them with suggestions for making better use of their tickets.
Mackani has more blue-sky ideas as well. Once the ticket is scanned, the system will know who the fan is. This could be used to flash a greeting on a flat screen monitor saying, 'Welcome Paul Bernard!' -- or to display a route map showing the customer how to get to his seat.
Meanwhile, the entertainment side is not being ignored. Mackani says that by the time the 2004 season opens, fans will be able to order refreshments from concession stands, souvenirs and tickets for future games from their Wi-Fi devices.
The River Cats might even decide to deliver purchased items or at least ping customers when their orders are ready and let them pick them up at an express location, thus reducing long waits and crowds.
The project will also have player and game information available for fans with Wi-Fi devices. "It makes it a lot more fun when you get to know the players," Ledford says. "This business is all about making the experience fun for fans, and whatever we can deliver that speaks to that will help make us successful."
Mackani is looking for a hardware partner willing to fund an initiative that would offer fans rental wireless devices to use during the game.
Much of this still smacks of pie-in-the-sky. The wireless ball park is nobody's main line of business -- yet. CIE, a tiny company, is, relatively speaking, sinking the most resources into it. Mackani's motives are quite clear.
"Anyone can put up a wireless hub at a baseball field, but that alone doesn't buy you any business benefit," he says. "It's creating those applications to do what the business needs to do that makes it work. That's what we want to do. We want to showcase the applications so other clubs can see the benefits -- and hopefully they'll want to do the same thing."