Watching Toronto Blue Jays a whole new ball game with StadiumVision

If the Toronto Blue Jays early winning streak, winning record, or hotshot outfielder Alex Rios, and renowned veteran Vernon Wells weren’t enough to get you to the Rogers Centre this season, Cisco StadiumVision technology may well be the ticket.

The major league baseball team is moving forward with unified communications to improve the physical experience of attending a ball game.

Following the completion of a successful pilot project last year, the Blue Jays are continuing with the small-scale installation of Cisco’s Stadium Vision technology, which includes integrated video, voice, data and wireless service on one network.

A Blue Jays spokesperson says the technology meets the changing needs of baseball fans. “They want instant information, updates and features. It’s a trend that’s happening now and we want to respond to it by providing the best game day experience,” said Wilna Behr, vice-president of stadium initiatives for the Toronto Blue Jays.

She said fans would be able to view sports scores, sports news, weather and traffic, and Jays trivia on high-definition screens located at gate entrances and in the JaysShop, while never losing sight of the field. 

“We can customize screens to the demographics.”   

Screens will display a wide variety of content, allowing the JaysShop to post information about current promotions, and permitting stadium staff to direct guests to the nearest exit after the game, or during an emergency evacuation. 

The technology can also be used for other Rogers Centre events, such as the National Football League’s Buffalo Bills series in Toronto.

High-definition, touch-screen televisions will also be placed in 25 luxury suites, along with an IP telephone, Behr said.

This will allow select guests to gain a more personalized view of the game by choosing custom camera angles, including views of the Jays and visiting team’s bullpens.

The luxury suites will also display specialty high-definition channels, such as Super Sports Pak or Major League Baseball Extra Innings, throughout the game.

“We were the first major league sports franchise to pilot Cisco StadiumVision technology last season, in a small controlled location,” said Behr. “The success of the pilot led to full-scale deployment at the new Yankee Stadium.”

The Yankee Stadium solution, launched in 2008, along has been deployed on a much larger scale, noted Suzanne Kilner, manager of system engineering for unified communications at Cisco Canada.

New York City and the Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City use comprehensive IP deployment rather than a small selection of luxury suite televisions, allowing the stadiums to sell concessions and merchandise over the IP phone interface. 

Yankee Stadium has also opted to include WiFi access, which is available to all game attendees.

The Rogers Centre deployment, by comparison, is much smaller but there are plans to grow it over the next few years, Kilner said. “We will work together with the Blue Jays to determine which features they would like to pilot in the future.”

Last year’s pilot project included StadiumVision in 22 suites, but the Jays aim to outfit an additional 10 to 15 suites this year. Crews are currently adding the necessary wiring on site.

By 2010, the technology will be added to the HSBC VIP club as well.

One improvement over last year’s pilot will allow fans seated in luxury suites to use personal touch-screens to shop at the JaysShop and order Blue Jays merchandise directly to their seat.

The small-scale launch of Cisco’s StadiumVision will help the Rogers Centre remain up to date, Behr said.

The system has been designed to support future features, such as use of mobile devices for ordering concessions, viewing instant replays or social networking with friends inside or outside the facility.

“I think this technology really enhances the fan experience,” Behr said. “It’s fabulous for fans and stadium owners as we look at changing the way people interact at games and sporting events that occur at these venues.”

Bridging the gap between the baseball team’s IT department and business side, will allow the company to make more money through enhanced sales of food and merchandise, she said. 

Professional sports teams are always looking for new ways to enhance revenues at the gate and stratify their customer base to provide a more premium and basic service, said Tony Olvet, vice president of research domains at IDC Canada.

But there’s also a downside to targeting sports fans with interactive technology. Many go to the game to see live action rather than be distracted, he noted.

“For some fans, it’s becoming less about the jumbo-trons and more about being closer to the players and live action.”

He said there’s a bit of a “push-pull factor” at play.

“Montreal’s fans (for instance) would rather have a more intimate stadium experience. But there are also those who want the luxury of watching the game in a box [with] information at their finger tips and personalized TVs with access to scores and stats.”

Either way StadiumVision includes innovative technology which will help Cisco reach an under-utilized market audience, Olvet said.

He said Cisco’s screens the interactive, customized features enjoyed by ball game fans could eventually make its way into home service.

For example, providing more detailed views of players from your seat could be a feature that’s accessible to you at home.

Right now Cisco is well-known among corporate buyers, but less well known among consumers, he said.

But the company has made a number of important plays this year, more squarely focused on the consumer. These include the decision to bring high-definition televisions into homes by next year.

“It might be a way to plant a seed and develop a new interactive experience at home.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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