The Wireless Ball Park

By Gerry Blackwell

October 03, 2003

Find out how a minor league ball team is beating the majors to the punch with Wi-Fi technology, in use by fans and the ball club itself.

Raley Field, home of the Pacific Coast League champion Sacramento River Cats, is billing itself these days as the first wireless ball park in America.

The ballpark offers wireless services of a type that has been piloted at other sports venues -- and the club offer free hotspot service to the odd fan who brought along a Wi-Fi-enabled PDA in the last few months of the 2003 season. It will offer more innovative services for fans in 2004.

The real story at Raley Field, though, is how the River Cats organization, a Triple A affiliate of the Oakland A's, and its partners have implemented intriguing wireless solutions to solve back office business problems for the club.

The project began when local technology development firm, Corporate Information Exchange (CIE), pitched the River Cats on the idea of building the wireless ball park as a showcase for the technology and an innovative public relations gambit.

Right from the start it was about more than just wirelessly delivering player stats to fans -- although that is included in the plans.

"We showed them two things when we first approached them," says CIE partner and CEO Ali Mackani. "We showed them the business side and the entertainment side."

The River Cats bought it initially for the entertainment side, says club CEO and president Alan Ledford.

"We're in the baseball business, but more so, we're in the entertainment business," Ledford says. "It's critical for us to remain innovative, to offer new products and services to keep the excitement level up. It could be a new message board, a new food product -- or it might be wireless access to the Internet."

It helped that the River Cats didn't have to pony up any actual money. Just hours of their engineering and IT staff's time.

Mackani, who masterminded the project, got Intel intrigued enough that it contributed the Cisco wireless infrastructure CIE used -- six access points, switches, hubs and servers, an estimated $20,000 investment.

"Their goal was to understand the business benefit of using the technology in this way," Mackani says. "And they're very satisfied with the data we've gathered so far. They're convinced there is a business benefit, and they're already using the data in their marketing collateral."

Besides sinking countless hours into strategizing and application development, CIE also built the network, which currently covers about 75 percent of Raley Field, and will cover 100 percent by the start of next season, Mackani says.

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