Wireless At The Ballpark: Customized Experience Or Annoying Distraction?
By Mike Masnick, Thu Jun 10 15:45:00 GMT 2004

Stadiums are suddenly embracing wireless technologies as quickly as possible. While they talk about convenience and the customizability of the experience, many seem to just use it to check e-mail.

Baseball purists hate "the cellphone guy." He's always there, however. Since so much of a baseball telecast is the long shot from centerfield showing the back of the pitcher to the batter standing at the plate, you can always see any fans sitting behind home plate. Inevitably, someone sitting back there is on a mobile phone, talking to a friend at home watching the game, and frantically waving at the camera as if they need to be rescued off a deserted island. Television producers have even been known to try to squeeze the cell phone guy out of shots, but that's not always possible.

Many stadium operators, however, see wireless technologies in the stadium as the next big thing. In the last few years they started off by letting fans order concessions from their seats using text messaging. This initially became popular in a few minor league baseball parks (where owners are often more willing to take a risk).

In the last year or so, Wi-Fi has arrived at the ballpark. Stadiums are quickly being outfitted with Wi-Fi networks (either for free or for a fee) to try to entice more fans to make it out to the game. Once they're there, though, they can do whatever they want with the Wi-Fi connection. Stadium owners would tell you that they can use the connections to "customize their experience" -- whether it's to order up some grub, check out the latest stats or even get customized instant replays at their seats.

Traditionalists, on the other hand, see it as a distraction, and point out that most people seem to be sitting in the stands checking e-mail or kids so obsessed with playing video games that they miss the real game going on down on the field. It seems that, as with just about any technology, people can use it for any purpose they want -- whether or not others agree with them. As long as it's not interfering with others there's not much to complain about -- though you do wonder why some people bothered to come out at all. Still, if you are bringing your laptop to a sporting event, beware of a very non-technological method fans use to show their displeasure with others. The next time you see someone sitting behind home plate waving their laptop, it might just be because the fan next to them "accidentally" spilled beer all over them.