October 22, 2004 4:00 AM PDT
Sports venues look to score with wireless, HDTV
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Laptops won't likely replace gloves in the stands at San Francisco's SBC Park anytime soon, either. According to Bill Schlough, vice president and chief information officer of the Giants, only about 200 fans have logged onto the team's Wi-Fi service during any single game.
A group of San Francisco bloggers took the Giants' Wi-Fi service out for a spin this summer. Evan Williams, founder of Pyra Networks, a recent Google acquisition, took some photos and posted them to the Web, while his game mate Noah Glass took a moment to record his impressions.
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"Sitting outside at the Giants SBC Park, connected to the Wi-Fi just feels natural, like it should be," he wrote. "This level of connectedness doesn't feel borg-like or matrix machiney. It's dusk with plenty of light in the sky...sweet summer time, connected to the world."
Still, he observed, "we are a bit of an oddity, people turning around to see what we are doing with our computers. Some day it will be more normal."
Across town, in the San Francisco 49ers' newly renamed Monster Park, is a further sign that stadium Wi-Fi could have only limited appeal. One of the first experiments with the technology was sidelined when the football team ended its online access plan, citing lack of interest.
"It launched in 1997. It ran in the suites, and we had folks there to demonstrate how to use it. But we found there was very little interest at all, because people wanted to focus on the game," 49ers spokesman Kirk Reynolds said. "It faltered after the first season."
Reynolds said there are no plans to bring Wi-Fi back to Monster Park, but it might be considered for a new stadium for which the team is currently working to win approval.
Beyond offering perks to fans, information technology such as Wi-Fi can assist security and maintenance crews, and streamline crowd management. Tens of thousands of fans have taken advantage of e-ticketing services, allowing them to buy and exchange tickets online and ease delays at the turnstiles. Down the road, teams are looking to see if such programs can be adapted for concessions.
"We think the lines for garlic fries are too long," said Schlough, adding that he's currently looking at a number of emerging technologies to feed hungry fans and get them in and out of stadiums more quickly.
"RFID (radio frequency identification) technology makes a lot of sense for fans, because it can facilitate faster transactions," he said. "We're also in preliminary talks with biometrics companies, but that's pretty futuristic."
Most fans shouldn't expect to be able to order beer and hot dogs from their seats any time soon, however. Schlough said significant logistical problems could make at-seat ordering and delivery impractical barring major breakthroughs in stadium design.
"SBC Park wasn't built with a delivery service in mind," he said. "But that doesn't mean stadiums in the future won't be designed to try to take advantage of that."CNET News.com's Ben Charny contributed to this report.
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