The St. Louis Cardinals have fallen behind most other Major League Baseball clubs in the implementation of in-stadium Wi-Fi service, but that will be changing during the upcoming 2015 season.
At some point during its 10th year of operation, Busch Stadium will activate Wi-Fi for fan use. This announcement was made by team president Bill DeWitt III during the recent Winter Warm-Up event in St. Louis.
“One of the big things that you will notice, but that you can’t see, is Wi-Fi in the stadium,” DeWitt said. “But it is not going to happen Opening Day. Right now, we are sort of gearing up toward about an All-Star Game rollout of this.”
The appeal of Wi-Fi to fans is clear. It not only enables a faster connection for digital devices than cellular networks, but its usage also does not eat into one’s cellular data plan.
Still, free Wi-Fi alone is not enough. It has to be responsive, dependable and scalable.
Along with the necessary back end infrastructure, there must be a good number of access points installed throughout the ballpark. Keeping the ratio of fans to access points low is key to ensure consistent performance under heavy load.
The potential of the vast majority of patrons in a full Busch Stadium using the network at once means stress testing is crucial. Preparation is why DeWitt is hedging a bit on his dates.
“It might be a little delayed,” DeWitt acknowledged. “You know how the technology goes. It is quite a complicated task just to deliver Wi-Fi to an entire stadium that has 45,000 people in it.
“It is easy if there is only like 10 people in there,” he quipped.
According to a second-quarter 2014 study by Mobile Sports Report, the Cardinals were one of ten MLB clubs yet to implement Wi-Fi. Since then, the Royals enabled their Wi-Fi, just in time for the October post-season.
The Cardinals have been monitoring the progress of other clubs and are hoping to learn from their experiences.
“A couple of the teams that have been ahead of us on this; they’ve gotten Wi-Fi fully enabled in their stadiums and they did not even tell anybody and it still crashed the system,” DeWitt noted.
The laggards are working to catch up. They are being encouraged and supported by Major League Baseball. With its 2015 implementation, St. Louis will be 12 years behind industry leader San Francisco, which began its Wi-Fi service in AT&T Park in 2004.
Having enhanced cellular service along with Wi-Fi is the goal for all MLB parks, as both are needed. In fact, most fans in stadiums first use a cellular connection. They may not know about available Wi-Fi, don’t want to be bothered with the process or are not sure how to connect.
Of course, in the case of Busch having no Wi-Fi to date, there has been no choice. As anyone who has tried to make a call from the ballpark knows, cellular service in the area has been sorely lacking. Perhaps the addition of Wi-Fi will alleviate some of that pressure.
For enhanced cellular connectivity, there have been other changes at Busch Stadium. The facility has several distributed antenna system (DAS) antennas already installed, according to MSR. MLB’s approach is to have one carrier provide the wireless service while allowing multiple carriers to participate seamlessly.
Once the infrastructure is updated, DeWitt sees the potential for additional apps to enhance the game experience for fans.
“That will just create more fun for people at the ballpark,” he continued. “There are things we can build around that – a program called MLB at the Ballpark – which allows you to get enhanced stats as they happen and things related to concessions and that’s cool.”
The MLB.com Ballpark app includes digital storage of tickets, synchronization of stats and videos with previously-attended games, special offers, as well as mobile food ordering and seat upgrades in some stadiums.
The Cardinals president understands that fans are anxious, but wants to make sure first impressions of Busch Stadium’s new Wi-Fi system are positive.
“We want to do it and we want to do it right,” DeWitt said. “We are gearing toward All-Star Game. It might slip beyond it, but surely we are going to have it this year.”
The overall direction is definitely positive, but in reality, the end result is essentially mandatory. Whether MLB apps are being used or not, the enhanced digital experience enabled by the Wi-Fi and DAS infrastructure in a stadium should not be an option today.
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