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If the first half of 2009 was spent telling the world how to use Twitter, the second half might be them telling you that you can’t use it.

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As you can imagine, it’s not always easy being a diehard Boston Red Sox fan living in New York City. My passion for the team has come down from it’s astronomic levels after they ended the 86 year drought without a championship back in 2004 . Since then it hasn’t been do-or-die in my life, and things are made easy with a fantastic Red Sox bar just a block from my apartment.

But that doesn’t mean I won’t take the opportunity to venture into the Bronx to see my team play in person when the opportunity arises, and so I found myself at the new Yankee Stadium in early August. How would I classify the new ballpark? To be honest, it really just seems like a newer, larger version of the old one. It has better seats, wider aisles, better concession stands, an enormous screen in the outfield, more opportunities for marketing, and is all-around more luxurious than the last park.

yankee-stadium

The one thing I noticed it didn’t have, was Wi-Fi. Also worth noting was pretty terrible service from AT&T. A strong 3G connection would have been nice. For some reason, even no connection would somehow be understandable (too much concrete or something). But to have INTERMITTENT, slow service was very frustrating. Sometimes you could get to the web, sometimes not. Sometimes you could check e-mail, sometimes not. Sometimes on 3G, sometimes on Edge.

But it would have been all good with a strong Wi-Fi connection. That would have allowed me to check my Yahoo e-mail on the iPhone, bring up a website I wanted to show my buddy, and watch video replays and get scores from around the league from the MLB package.

So I started to wonder, how could a brand new, supposedly state-of-the-art, $1.5 Billion stadium not be equipped for Wi-Fi? How much could that have tacked on to the total cost?

Well, what started out as a quick podcast about my one experience led to lots and lots of research, not always with good answers.

I posted the question to the IT Pros on the “Networking Matrix” forum on Ars Technica.com.  Their estimates varied, and one user claimed that the project is in process, but most agreed the cost would be between $100,000 and $500,000. Surely that’s a lot of money, but not in the scope of $1.5 Billion. And not a lot when you see how much they charge for tickets.

So why is not working yet?

There are some press releases that hinted that Wi-Fi would be coming with the stadium, while the editor’s note from this story on the New Stadium Insider blog states:

“As of now, the Wi-Fi is for Yankee Stadium employees/personnel only. It will be rolled out for certain fan devices in the future, but the Yankees have never promised free Wi-Fi for fans to use on devices such as iPhones.”

So what’s the delay?

Michael Calore of Wired did a great article called “Tech me out to the ballgame,” showcasing the technology under the hood at AT&T Park in San Francisco, which does offer Wi-Fi.

att-ballpark-wifi

Consider the following, as stated in an article in Biz Journals and ABC:

– They claim to have had Wi-Fi there since 2004
– 139 Wi-Fi access points at the park
– 100 megabits of connectivity
– 840-1,310 Wi-Fi connections per game
– Usage increased 517% in the last 2 years

digital-dugout1

Digital Dugout include a new smartphone-friendly interface and additional features, including:
– Food Finder, which allows hungry Giants fans to locate the nearest concession stand
– FanCaptions, which provides closed captioning of PA announcements for hearing-impaired patrons
– Pitch Tracker, so fans can enjoy live pitch tracking, score updates and statistics courtesy of MLB.com
– Games, including Base Runner, Match Game and Buzz!, to challenge and entertain baseball fans with creative and innovative activities
– Video Content Library, which provides a collection of player interviews, along with great moments in Giants’ history

Some research indicates that Wi-Fi is available at Minute Maid Park in Houston, at Nationals park in Washington, DC (or is it?), in Seattle and at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh (just in the luxury boxes?), and is also is planned for the $1.1 Billion Dallas Cowboys stadium opening this year.

But hold on, maybe this is a bad idea.

After all, aren’t we consumed enough with technology all day long without bringing our portable devices into our pastimes?

Don’t we all hate the loud obnoxious real estate lawyer closing the deal on his Vegas condo during the bottom of the 3rd?

Don’t you hate the people behind home plate yelling “Look at me, I’m on TV” into their phone and waving?

The stadium at the Cowboys new field is the largest HD TV in the world, and while that sounds cool, some say it is SO crisp and SO clear and SO huge, that you can’t keep your eyes off it and it distracts you from the action on the field.

dallas-cowboys-hdtv

On the flip side, 9 innings of baseball is routinely a 4 hour ordeal. Sometimes the fact that you have the ability to check e-mail if needed is the only reason you can justify getting out of the office and to a game at all.

Besides, baseball has always been a game of stats. What’s the current wildcard standings? What are Hideki Okajima’s stats against righties? And yes, I’d like to see the replay of Posada tagged out at home on a controversial play, one that won’t be shown on the big screen because it could show up the umps and incite the crowd.

What about marketing opportunities?

It would be great for fans to view a $5 off coupon for a team jersey in the store or purchase tickets to the next series with a discount for current fans in the stadium. Or maybe M&Ms sponsors a game and fans can call up a coupon on their iPhone to get a free bag with the purchase of 2 beers and 2 burgers.

Wi-Fi in stadiums can work if the primary goal is to enhance the customer experience, because let’s face it, it’s not always seamless.

yankee-stadium-cash-counting

At the game I went to, I sat there for almost 10 minutes while 2 employees counted out hundreds of dollars in cash directly in front of a line of 10 people waiting for food in the 4th inning.

Really? It’s August and you don’t have this down yet?

You don’t funnel people to other lines? You don’t bring the cash drawer to the back room?

You physically hold up the line for 10 minutes while you count cash in front of the public?

Does this happen every single game?

Why the Yankees didn’t have Wi-Fi ready for this season or if it’s on the way, I don’t know.

But with more and more stats and videos and updates available, with smart phones and netbooks and tablets making their way into more and more hands, and with the cost of technology always dropping, the emergence of WiMax beckoning, I definitely see more and more opportunities to interact with fans.

So on the topic of Wi-Fi coming to a stadium near you… fans, teams, and front office management, let’s get on the ball.

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