Ticketholders will be allowed to bring their iPads to the Super Bowl on Sunday. There's Wi-Fi at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, so spectators will have the option to stay connected while they're there.
Is that a good thing?
Sports franchises are facing the same question that companies across industries are facing: Just how much technology do their customers want, and how far should companies go to enable that technology use? Retailers, restaurants, resorts, cruise ships, country clubs--all are sorting this out.
The NFL says iPads are allowed at the Super Bowl. Lucas Oil Stadium offers this description of its Wi-Fi capability:
We've recently upgraded the Wi-Fi capability in Lucas Oil Stadium. Please help test the upgrades by connecting to Lucas Oil Stadium Wi-Fi network ("OpenWiFiLos") on your mobile device to catch that last play, check the latest stats, send text messages, emails, and photos to your friends.
Sports stadiums are far from unanimous in endorsing the latest technology. Yankee Stadium, for example, bans iPads, Kindles, and other tablets, saying they could distract fans who should be aware of foul balls or broken bats flying their way.
Bill Schlough, CIO of the San Francisco Giants (a.k.a. the IT pro with a World Series ring), takes a much different view. The Giants' AT&T Park has Wi-Fi throughout, accessed by more than 16% of fans during the 2011 season. "We feel that's part of the experience," Schlough told attendees at the most recent InformationWeek 500 Conference.
The Giants' opening day last year conflicted with the Masters golf tournament, and Schlough doesn't want people staying home to watch both events. He also wants fans at AT&T Park to tell their friends where they are, so that people who didn't come to the game feel like they missed out. During the 2010 playoffs, fans sent more content out over the park's Wi-Fi network--pictures, Facebook posts--than they downloaded.
I spoke with Wayne Wichlacz, director of IT for the Green Bay Packers (a.k.a. the IT pro with two Super Bowl rings), about this tech phenomenon last fall at a Society for Information Management meeting. The Packers' Lambeau Field doesn't offer widespread Wi-Fi access, though select areas do. Wichlacz says his organization needs to be careful that the stadium's technology adds to the game experience and doesn't distract from it.
Understand, Lambeau Field has been sold out for every Packers game since 1960, 86,000 people are on the season ticket waiting list, and less than 100 people a year give up their tickets. The Packers don't want to do anything to mess with that good thing. Plus, do you really want to take your gloves off to use an iPad during a December game at Lambeau, home to the infamous Ice Bowl? The club handed out 70,000 free hand warmers to fans at the Packer's most recent playoff game, on Jan. 15.
Companies need a nuanced understanding of their customers to get this technology decision right. Royal Caribbean cruise lines this month will provide iPads in every stateroom on its Splendour of the Seas ship as part of a multimillion-dollar renovation. It also improved Wi-Fi throughout the ship for better coverage.
Read the comments on one online article about Royal Caribbean providing iPads, and a third of them are from people who want to turn off technology and unplug on cruises. But CIO Bill Martin insists that less than 10% of its customers want to unplug. "Increasingly, we see tech natives on the ship," he says.
So what's it going to be: Bring your iPad to the Super Bowl along with your binoculars and seat cushion, or would you prefer a more traditional experience?
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