Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie, And Technology - InformationWeek

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6/24/2004
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Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie, And Technology

The San Francisco Giants' use of technology, especially at their home ballpark, is serving as a prototype for other teams.

Everywhere San Francisco Giants fans turn these days, whether it's at SBC Park or sitting in front of their PCs, technology is enhancing their baseball experience. Giants fans are spoiled--from the way they buy and exchange tickets to the ease with which they can find out from their seat whether Barry Bonds has had success against a certain left-handed reliever. While technology's role in helping coaches and players crunch data about themselves and their opponents is tough to quantify, elsewhere, its impact is measurable. And with aggressive plans for E-ticketing and wireless services, the Giants clearly intend to make technology more pervasive.

Last season, the Giants experimented with a service called "ticket relay," which lets ticket holders essentially E-mail ticket assignments to friends and family, who then use credit cards or driver's licenses to retrieve tickets from kiosks outside SBC Park. This season, they've promoted the service more heavily and have seen it used to forward 25,000 tickets so far, at $2 per ticket.

In the offseason, the club also decided to make significant changes to its home-grown customer-relationship-management system, called "Profiler," to give customer-relations executives an updated dashboard view of season ticket holders, including information such as the percentage of tickets used, most recent interactions, and stats on the use of Double Play, the Giants online ticket resale marketplace. That data is used for such things as engaging in personal exchanges with ticket holders in their seats or jumping in when signs point to the possibility of a season-ticket holder not renewing. High on the priority list for making the system even more effective: better integration with Major League Baseball's Web site, mlb.com, as well as the Giants' ticketing partner, Tickets.com, and efforts to automate more manual processes, such as the way complimentary tickets are distributed.

This season, the club also introduced what's thought to be the only comprehensive Wi-Fi network in a professional sports facility, enabling fans to access stadium concession maps, player stats, and even video snippets of players in action. CIO Bill Schlough, who calls the Wi-Fi network the biggest project his staff has undertaken since SBC Park opened in 2000, credits the network with attracting Hewlett-Packard and Nortel Networks as sponsors this season because of the ability for them to point to the stadium as a live demo of their technologies--wireless networking from Nortel, and handheld devices from HP. Schlough says it's also paid off in unpredictable ways. For instance, on opening night, a Sports Illustrated photographer got a shot of Bonds' 660th home run--the one that tied him with his godfather, Willie Mays, for third place on the all-time list--just minutes before the magazine's deadline. The wireless connectivity on the field allowed him to quickly upload the photo to his laptop and deliver it in time to run as a two-page spread in that week's issue. Next season, Schlough says the Wi-Fi network may be used to deliver on-demand replays, or possibly even to let fans order food for delivery to their seats.

But the bulk of Schlough's focus for 2005 is on making even better use of the ticket-distribution kiosks: He hopes to experiment with more widespread E-ticketing by sending season ticket holders only digital versions of their tickets, which would then be redeemed at the kiosks. When Schlough meets with Tickets.com execs in a couple of weeks, he plans to push them to make the technology investments needed for large-scale E-ticketing to work. "It's become kind of a crusade of mine," he says. "Print-at-home is kind of a transitive technology. I don't want to bring an 8-1/2-by-11 piece of paper. I want to bring my wallet, and one day not even that."

The Giants' use of technology on so many fronts has established them as a standard among Major League Baseball franchises, says Al DeBord, technology coordinator for the St. Louis Cardinals. DeBord is up to his eyeballs in IT initiatives as the club prepares to open its new stadium for the 2006 season. He's hoping to have a wireless network that extends to all of the ballpark after seeing the impact it's having at SBC. And he's also considering pursuing a ticket-distribution model similar to the Giants' arrangement with Tickets.com, which he says is influencing how ticketing is handled by many other teams. The Cardinals currently run their ticket system internally on an AS/400 mainframe, and DeBord says that any new system--whether internal or outsourced--will have to be in place before the 2005 seasons so it can run for a year before being used at the new stadium. It's that time crunch that has made the Giants' model look especially attractive. Adds DeBord, "The advantages of going with the outside vendor is that you gain two years of development overnight."

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