Baseball season is here – which means millions of fans across the country are headed to the ballpark to take part in the revelry of our nation’s favorite pastime.
Fenway Park, the first baseball stadium in the U.S., opened its doors to fans in 1912. Now we’re in the digital era, and the ballpark experience has evolved beyond the coveted seventh-inning stretch, and Cracker Jacks at the concession stand.
The MLB needs to keep up with the times to keep fans coming back. But revolutionizing decades-old baseball stadiums, and the fan experience, doesn’t happen overnight.
Here are five ways the MLB is using technology to enhance the fan experience:
Aligning internal communications
In 2018, the MLB partnered with Mitel to roll out a digitized internal communication system that’s uniform across all 30 ballparks.
“They [the ballparks] all had their own communications systems that would call from the dugout, to the press box, to the bullpen – and each one of those were managed separately,” Wes Durow, CMO, Mitel, said. “There was no consistency of what that was like when you went from ballpark to ballpark.”
If communication is aligned, the coaches, and the players, know exactly what to expect when they enter a new stadium.
“So if I’m a coach, or a representative, that needs to communicate from one location or manager to the next, I have a common experience that helps the workflow and the speed of the game,” Durow added.
For the fans, this means smoother games that aren’t interrupted or delayed by hiccups on the backend.
“That’s the biggest fundamental shift – you’ve gone from 30 independent locations, to 30 that are identical in terms of how they’re managed,” Durow said. “The best technology is the technology that you don’t even know exists. When you go to a stadium, you really expect to have a seamless experience.”
Getting ballparks online
We’re at the point now where we expect to have Wi-fi wherever we go. But for the MLB, bringing Wi-fi to the ballpark was a big project.
“When you collect 40 to 50,000 people in one space, it can sometimes be challenging to get a signal,” Matt Bourne, VP, business public relations, MLB, said. “So four or five years ago, there was a pretty extensive effort to make sure the connectivity at the ballparks was up to the standards that fans expect.”
According to a CNBC report, only 12 baseball stadiums has access to Wi-fi or DAS (distributed antenna systems) in 2014. Now, almost all 30 stadiums have some form of internet accessibility, with nearly two-thirds offering services to fans.
“When fans go to the ballpark, they want to be able to check in, and they want to post photos,” Bourne said. “They want to be able to stay in touch with what’s going on either through email, or text, or going on social media.”
Big data, and apps
MLB Advance Media, the digital arm of the MLB, offers two distinct apps for fans who want to interact with their favorite teams on mobile. At Bat is the MLB’s official live streaming app. Fans pay a monthly subscription fee to watch games, access lineups, check statistics, and engage with other premium content, all from their device of choice.
The Ballpark app is designed specifically for the stadium-goer. Ballpark provides a portal for fans to manage tickets, check in to receive offers and rewards, order food, and learn about their local stadium’s history.
By analyzing in-app mobile data, the MLB can leverage a better understanding of fan habits both inside and outside the stadium. Big data can have a multitude of applications, from determining ticket sales, to evaluating what types of food orders are the most popular at different ballparks.
This one isn’t really for the in-stadium fans, but it’s a new way to reimagine the use of ad space in the ballpark. In 2017, the MLB began airing “virtual ads.” Green screens were set up around stadiums that projected different ads for different broadcast audiences. Advertisers were then able to purchase more targeted ad slots that catered to different demographics.
A look ahead at AR
“Imagine just holding up your device so it recognizes AR surroundings, bringing the field of play to life. What if you could point your iPad at the Green Monster in Fenway Park, and suddenly you see video of Ted Williams or Carl Yastrzemski?” Mark Newman, enterprise editor, wrote for MLB.com.
AR functionality is expected to roll out across all 30 ballparks throughout the 2018 season.
“I think the exciting part is what starts to happen next, when you start to see the full fan experience,” Durow said.