Report excerpt: MLB’s Wi-Fi everywhere plan nears completion

By the end of the season, Major League Baseball’s $300 million plan to bring Wi-Fi and DAS to every ballpark should be mostly complete, cementing the league’s title as the best-connected sport for now, and most likely for the near-term future as well.

While other sports, leagues and conferences rely on individual teams, schools and stadiums to figure out their own budgetary paths to connectivity, MLB’s unique decision to foot a major portion of the networking build-out bill should reap dividends for fans, clubs, and all the parties involved in the business of in-stadium wireless, said Joe Inzerillo, the executive vice president and chief technology officer for Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM).

“In general, things are going pretty well [with the build-outs],” said Inzerillo in a recent interview. “By the end of the calendar year, all the major construction will be complete.”

Vague on specifics, but clear on the goal

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Joe Inzerillo, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer for Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM)

Joe Inzerillo, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer for Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM)

In somewhat curious fashion, Inzerillo and MLBAM pointedly do not provide specifics on the buildouts, which include both new Wi-Fi networks for parks that didn’t have deployments, and many upgrades for those that did. While Inzerillo did provide a short list of some of the new MLBAM-led deployments, including those for the Kansas City Royals, the Colorado Rockies, the Texas Rangers, the Houston Astros, the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Chicago White Sox and the Minnesota Twins, to find out others we had to call or contact teams directly.

New networks coming in at St. Louis’ Busch Stadium and Milwaukee’s Miller Park are also MLBAM-led projects, according to sources with each team. So even though there is no master list of deployments, MSR research shows that by the end of the 2015 season all but two of the league’s 30 stadiums should have working, updated Wi-Fi and DAS deployments, with MLB primarily responsible for putting networks into eight of the 10 venues that didn’t have Wi-Fi as of last season.

The two-year-plus plan also includes construction of multiple new or retooled distributed antenna systems (DAS) that ensure participation by all four of the major U.S. wireless carriers, since all four also contributed to the overall buildout budget.

When asked for specifics on the amount that each entity – MLB, the carriers or the teams – contributed to the buildout pool, Inzerillo declined to give exact figures, other than the $300 million total.

“The notion is, everybody has an interest in making sure the people attending the game are happy with their [wireless] experience,” said Inzerillo, describing the thinking behind the deal that brought together the league, the carriers and the teams. While some industry sources seem to believe that carriers and MLBAM footed most of the deployment costs, Inzerillo said all entities involved paid some share of the total bill.

“It’s fair to say everybody has some skin in the game,” Inzerillo said.

For MLBAM, the reason behind seeking a solid level of connectivity at all parks is clear, due to “Ballpark,” its league-wide single app for in-stadium use. Though its features differ slightly from park to park depending on technology deployments (such as beacons) and desired uses, MLB’s plans to monetize its own apps depend on their being reliable connectivity on hand – so instead of waiting for teams to get there on their own, MLBAM led the charge, a move Inzerillo said made sense for several reasons, including the ability to herd carriers together and to share rare expertise.

Herding the cats known as carriers

If there’s a topic that scares stadium tech pros the most, it’s having to deal with all the major wireless carriers in negotiating DAS deployments. One of the top reasons some stadiums end up choosing a neutral host for their DAS is so that the neutral host provider can act as a buffer for the catfights that can occur between different carriers’ desires and needs. In MLB’s case, Inzerillo said MLBAM was that lukewarm water between the fire and ice.

Railing Wi-Fi AP enclosure at Seatte's Safeco Field. Photo: MLBAM

Railing Wi-Fi AP enclosure at Seatte’s Safeco Field. Photo: MLBAM

“We [MLBAM] are uniquely positioned to bring all the carriers together, and to give them a ‘safe zone’ to talk about potential issues,” Inzerillo said. Through its short history of supporting original team apps and then its own apps, Inzerillo said that MLBAM also gained a significant amount of internal telecom expertise, a resource not available to most teams.

Having dedicated app or telecom expertise in the form of a full-time employee is something that is hard to do locally, Inzerillo said. “It’s hard to find people with these skills,” he noted, especially for the smaller IT staffs found inside sports teams. The same thing goes for overall deployment expertise, Inzerillo said. “These deployments are big, capital-intensive projects, and they require specialized assets from a human standpoint,” Inzerillo said. “It’d be impossible to have resources [like MLBAM has] on a local staff.”

Construction is half the cost

That said, Inzerillo is quick to add that without the teams’ help and internal expertise, the entire project probably wouldn’t have gotten off the ground.

“We really couldn’t do this without the teams – there’s just a huge effort at each of the facilities,” Inzerillo said. The recognition of the local hard work, he said, is the main reason why MLBAM isn’t putting out a “master list” of its stadium upgrades – “It’s really a team story, and it’s something for them to tell their local markets,” Inzerillo said.

And for all the focus on the latest Wi-Fi antennas and fine-tuned DAS gear, Inzerillo also noted that it’s the other end of deployment – the physical work of putting networks in – that is the hardest part of the puzzle to solve.

“Things that can make or break a deployment are low tech,” Inzerillo said, claiming that half of the cost of any deployment is usually the labor to put it in. “Power, conduits and just knowing how to perform [construction] inside a ballpark cannot be understated,” Inzerillo said.

That’s especially true when you are putting a network in a venue like Boston’s Fenway Park, which is not just old but also has historic construction parameters that need to be worked around. Even Coors Field in Denver, which is a baby compared to Fenway, was still “old” when compared to the era of cellphones, Inzerillo noted.

“When it was built 20 years ago, there were no smartphones and barely an Internet,” said Inzerillo of Coors Field. So things like conduit easements, he said, weren’t anticipated, and added to construction costs.

“Twenty years doesn’t seem old, but compared to technology changes, it is,” he said.

And even though Inzerillo is eager to get to the end of the first long phase of deployments – he talked of “clearing the trees and getting ready to plant crops and tend the garden” – he also knows it’s a job that’s never quite over.

“It’s sort of like painting the Golden Gate bridge, where as soon as you’re done you need to start again,” Inzerillo said. “We’ve got beacons in 29 parks that we’re just starting to use, and now you have to think about things like wearables and the Apple Watch. There’s always new stuff, which is why infrastructure is so important. We’re always going to be thinking, do I have enough stuff in the walls?”

Stadium Tech Report: MLB stadium technology reports — NL Central

Editor’s note: The following team-by-team capsule reports of MLB stadium technology deployments are an excerpt from our most recent Stadium Tech Report for Q2 2014, which focuses on Major League Baseball. To get all the capsules in one place as well as our featured reports, interviews and analysis, download your free copy of the full report today.


Reporting by Chris Gallo

Chicago Cubs
Wrigley Field
Seating Capacity: 41,160
Wi-Fi: Yes
Beaconing: No

The iconic Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field enters its 100th season in style.
The Chicago Cubs are celebrating all season long with special promotions and the experience is even better with Wi-Fi throughout the historic ballpark. The Cubs do not yet offer iBeacon technology, but the free Wi-Fi is not bad for a ballpark that’s been around for a century.

And with a proposed $500 million dollar restoration and renovation plan, it’s possible that the digital experience at Wrigley might improve in the coming years. Potential enhancements include new restrooms, concessions, a 6,000 square foot video board in left field, which has drawn opposition from neighboring rooftop owners and historic-minded fans, who don’t want to see the old Wrigley ruined. At the very least, pretty much everyone can get behind improved connectivity. But it remains to be seen if the Cubs’ owners will get approval for their renovation plans.

St. Louis Cardinals
Busch Stadium
Seating Capacity: 45,399
Wi-Fi: No
Beaconing: Yes

The reigning National League Champions enter their eighth season at Busch Stadium in 2014. Public facing Wi-Fi is absent, but the Cardinals unveiled non-digital enhancements with the Ballpark Village and AT&T Rooftop this year.
Busch Stadium does have several DAS antennas installed and is one of many teams to test out iBeacon technology with MLB At the Ballpark this season.

Milwaukee Brewers
Miller Park
Seating Capacity: 42,200
Wi-Fi: Premium suites only
Beaconing: No

Rain or shine, the game is always on at Miller Park. Opened in 2001, the stadium remains one of the more modern ballparks with a retractable roof and a climbing wall as part of the Dew Deck. Unfortunately, the modernizations do not include any public Wi-Fi for fans. Maybe next year Brew Crew?

Pittsburgh Pirates
PNC Park
Seating Capacity: 38,496
Wi-Fi: No
Beaconing: No

After making the playoffs last year for the first time since 1992, the Pittsburgh Pirates are poised to improve stadium connectivity at PNC Park. The Bucs plan to install major upgrades with additional access points and antennas, hopefully
in time for another home playoff series in 2014.

Cincinnati Reds
Great American Ball Park
Seating Capacity: 42,036
Wi-Fi: Yes
Beaconing: Yes

Entering its second decade of existence, the Great American Ball Park welcomes fans with free Wi-Fi and more than 60 iBeacons throughout the ballpark. The stadium uses that network to distribute ballpark information and targeted offers to fans throughout the game.

The Reds also partnered with Miami University to build a dedicated social media area on the third-base concourse. The Reds Connect Zone includes Wi-Fi access, charging stations for mobile devices, and more than 25 screens of tweets, Instagram photos, Facebook polls, and Vine videos for fans to stay connected at the game.

To get all the capsules in one place as well as our featured reports, interviews and analysis, download your free copy of the full report today.

AT&T Park gets more Wi-Fi, new DAS backend, and iBeacon… plus seat upgrade app

Generally recognized as perhaps the best-connected sports stadium anywhere, AT&T Park in San Francisco will greet fans for the 2014 baseball season with upgrades to make the technology experience even better than before, with upgraded Wi-Fi and DAS, as well as Apple’s new iBeacon technology.

In a press release sent out earlier this week the Giants said that they and partner AT&T had been busy this offseason adding upgrades to the Wi-Fi network that has hosted more than 1.85 million visitors since it first went online in 2004. According to the Giants the park now has 1,289 access points for its free Wi-Fi service, second in number only to the Dallas Cowboys’ home, cavernous AT&T Stadium in Dallas.

On the DAS side of things AT&T Park now has a completely new headend system that fully supports both AT&T and Verizon versions of 4G LTE signals. According to the release T-Mobile and Sprint services will join the DAS later this year.

Like many other MLB parks the Giants’ home will now feature Apple’s iBeacon technology, which is basically low-power Bluetooth connections that can communicate with nearby Apple iOS7 devices. Though phones may now run out of juice quicker at the park if you need to leave both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on, it should be interesting to see how fans respond to the iBeacon deployments, whether they find them helpful or annoying. MSR will keep following the iBeacon deployments through the year, and we encourage any and all fans who use the system to tell us how it worked.

This year the Giants will also be working in partnership with the Pogoseat app for instant at-the-game ticket upgrades. The feature will be available in the Giants version of MLB’s At the Ballpark app, where Giants fans will be able to search for better seats to pay for while at the park. Of course you can always try the time-honored method of just sneaking into empty seats in later innings of the game, but there is no app for that.

MLB delivers completely revamped At The Ballpark app


With the start of the Major League Baseball season just days away the league has delivered a complete rebuilt At The Ballpark app that includes a great deal more local customization, new technology integration and support.

The app has been available for 4 years and the facelift will add many features that will give users a greater ability to customize the app to meet their personal needs and usage model. It is available now for 20 ballparks and runs on both Android and Apple’s iOS operating system with additional customization in the latest release for the iOS 7 operating system.

The first of the two key technologies that have been incorporated is mapping and directions provided by a MapQuest-powered engine. MapQuest has a deal with MLBAM that will call for the delivery of additional MLB-focused features that will be available soon for both operating systems that At The Ballpark supports. In addition MapQuest and MLBAM also are co-creating an original video series, expected to debut in May 2014.

The second technology has been much more talked about in recent months, and that is the inclusion of iBeacon, a low powered micro-location technology that was introduced with iOS 7. MLBAM has equipped 20 ballparks with dozens of iBeacons each, and starting with Opening Day fans can check in at the ballpark and then receive offers and information from locations within the park as they travel around or sit in their seats.

Currently there are only a select few applications for the technology at the ball yards but MLBAM is working to create more and expects to deliver them later this year, as well as expand the number of fields that have the technology.

For fans who have been using At The Ballpark in the past it will still have the familiar functions including the ability to use MyTickets Mobile for delivery and storage of all MLB tickets sold as well as seat upgrade functions in select clubs. Some clubs also allow you to order food and beverages with the app.

You can view team stats, schedule and watch video of games, a number of hooks into social media and rewards for check-ins as well as more mundane features such as ballpark guides, parking and directions are all among the functions of the app.

This is a great upgrade to the app and really enables fans to not just customize their experience but will provide even seasoned baseball game attendees the ability to make the experience easier and more enjoyable.

MLB finishes first two ballpark iBeacon installations for LA Dodgers, San Diego Padres


Major League Baseball Advanced Media has installed the micro-location technology called iBeacon that is found in Apple’s iOS operating system in the first two ballparks as part of project that expects to land the capabilities in a total of 20 sites this season.

The first two parks are Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles and Petco Park in San Diego. The parks are filled with small iBeacon beacons that fans will be able to use via mobile devices that support the technology, which can be supported by Android devices as well as Apple’s. They will also need the upcoming version of the At The Ballpark app when that is released sometime prior to Opening Day.

iBeacon is an indoor positioning system, operating much like the GPS that most users are familiar with but designed for a much more pinpoint location capability. With it a fan could conceivable find all of the different concessions, restrooms and other features of the park while sitting in their seat waiting for a break in play.

It also has the ability for the teams to tailor marketing to fans, from enabling social media check ins at specific locations in the park to showing them where items are on sale and since the technology includes point of sale capabilities a user could purchase items with their phone or tablet. Retailers and others are now starting to look at the technology as a way of engaging customers and keeping the in the stores.

Baseball demonstrated the capabilities of iBeacon with the New York Mets last season so that this move should not be a surprise. Baseball already includes the ability to upgrade seats and ordering food to At the Ballpark so the iBeacon capabilities are a natural extension.

MLBAM continues to keep baseball at the forefront of the digital world by constantly updating and enhancing the technologies and apps that fans use including apps that allow users to watch or listen to games on mobile devices and a number of contests and games over the course of the year to keep fans following the sport even in the offseason.

Football and basketball fall far behind baseball in terms of embracing next generation digital technology. The NFL is just now developing some digital capabilities and considering the resistance teams have put up in wiring their stadiums it might not see huge usage. Though most NBA stadiums have internal Wi-Fi for fans, few teams are actively promoting the service and there is no league-wide directive on wireless. Only Barclays Center in Brooklyn has expressed any interest in the iBeacon technology.

MLBAM adds Ticket functions to At the Ballpark App


Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM) continues to push the envelope in providing fan friendly apps that do everything from allow you to listen to games on the road, seat upgrades to ordering food at select ballparks and has now expanded its At the Ballpark app to allow access to tickets.

MLBAM has developed the feature with to create MyTickets Mobile, a feature that will reside in the already shipping At the Ballpark app. The app is designed for not only season ticket holders but also fans that have purchased a single game ducat.

Using the At the Ballpark app a user can access their ticket, which will include what is expected such as opponent, seat, row, section, game time and secure bar code that are on a printed ticket. So now the ease with which you can show a plane boarding pass or pay for your coffee at leading outlets is also available for baseball fans.

The app will also support users of Apple’s Passbook so that tickets can be stored there for use and overall the app is supported by both Apple iOS devices as well as ones that run the Android operating system.

The program will not be available at all ballparks upon release with only these 12 teams supporting the program: Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Kansas City Royals, Miami Marlins, Milwaukee Brewers, Minnesota Twins, New York Mets, Oakland Athletics, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants. MLBAM said that additional clubs are expected to support the app at some point in the future.