Arizona Diamondbacks take a swing at Wi-Fi portal for fans

Arizona Diamondbacks take a swing at Wi-Fi portal for fans

PHOENIX — Cracker Jacks. Peanuts. Hot dogs. Wi-Fi portals? The Arizona Diamondbacks are venturing where few baseball franchises have gone thus far, other than the Minnesota Twins and San Francisco Giants, which have similar connected offerings for fans.

The Phoenix-based club unveiled an interactive Web-based portal in late April at Chase Field that gives fans the ability to watch video replays and classic clips, scan real-time game information and stats, and view food vendor listings on Wi-Fi-enabled devices such as tablets and smartphones.

Fans can access the free portal at digitaldbacks.com when connected to the ballpark’s new Wi-Fi system, which was built and is hosted by AT&T Mobility (T) .Wi-Fi was installed at Chase Field in the off season with 278 access points throughout the stadium. Placement of the points is a challenge due to a round arc across the stadium, concrete, steel and predicting where people will sit with enabled devices.

Bob Zweig, chief information officer of the Arizona Diamondbacks, said the launch of the free service is to enhance the experience of visiting the ballpark and allows for another entertainment option to rival the experience of the home recliner.

“We know that people live in a digital world today,” said Zweig. “Being able to connect to them in this way became a major business decision of ours.”

The web portal can only be accessed at the ballpark and beta testing of it took place during the season-opening nine-game home series.

Likely to be the biggest draw of the portal is the video replays available while users watch the game. Due to league rules, MLB teams aren’t allowed to replay questionable calls on the stadium video scoreboard, creating resentment from fans, who often demand instant gratification to view a questionable call from an umpire.

When at the game, clubs are resigned to only show swinging strikeouts, as called strikes are not allowed on the big screen, either. Tests at the first home stand revealed that replays generally come back on the portal around a minute-and-a-half after a call is made.

The Major League All-Star Game at Chase Field on July 12 will see another test for the portal, which is likely to be used more than any other time this season.

“The rule of thumb we have is that we can hold about 25 to 30 fans per access point,” Zweig said. “Rearranging the network for optimization is a constant effort.”

The MLB Advanced Media arm of professional baseball helped to develop the free portal, which also offers fans an option to purchase MLB.com’s At Bat 11 app to receive additional content and social media interaction, including more video highlights, a league-wide scoreboard and other offers for a one-time fee of $15.

A future development for the free portal includes the ability of fans to order and pay for food from their seats to nearby concession stands with a text alert given by vendors when the food is ready. Other plans include information how to text the locations of rowdy fans to security, offering historical video clips from the past and to provide closed-captioning on devices for games.

Chase Field is also planned to advance cell service to accommodate upwards of 60,000 fans. Currently, Verizon Wireless has an antennae-based system along with surrounding towers around the stadium to supplant coverage but the D-Backs have decided to partner with AT&T for an upcoming distributed antenna system (DAS) in the ballpark.

“When you’re talking about large amounts of infrastructure, we went with AT&T again to make sure it wasn’t like Swiss cheese in the stadium by having tons of wiring and infrastructure in place,” said Zwieg. “This way we can converge all the carriers on one type of platform.”

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