How the Giants are Transforming the Fan Experience with Big Data
Business Solutions When AT&T Park opened in 2000, the Giants were approaching their 50th consecutive year without a championship and the words “face book” were years away from being universally understood as a single term.
Bill Schlough, the San Francisco Giants SVP and Chief Information Officer, details how technology has seeped into both the MLB team’s performance and the fan experience these last 16 years.
How have you invested in technology to enhance the infrastructure within AT&T Park and improve fan experience?
Bill Schlough: Since AT&T Park first opened in 2000, the San Francisco Giants have continually invested in a variety of upgrades to enhance the ballpark experience for their fans. A smattering of traditional tube TVs, in place when the ballpark opened, have been replaced by more than 600 HD LED flat-panel screens—visible throughout the concourses on all levels so you are never separated from the action.
The 24’ x 32’ fluorescent data tube Astrovision video board has been upgraded to a state-of-the-art, 103’ x 32’ 20mm Mitsubishi Diamond Vision display. Point-of-sale systems have evolved from basic cash and credit devices to accept gift cards, ”SplashTix” (tickets loaded with additional cash value) and ApplePay transactions. Fans can access the ballpark with paper tickets, print-at-home tickets or a variety of digital tickets. And CLEAR members can skip the lines with biometric scanners at Willie Mays Plaza.
How do big data software and analytics track fans attendance and experience?
Baseball has always been a game of statistics. And in recent years, big data analytics have enabled teams to make more intelligent decisions about everything, from how many hot dogs we should stock to what price to charge for tickets to where to position Brandon Crawford in the field.
"When AT&T Park opened in 2000, it would have been hard to imagine how technology, particularly wireless technology, would play such a critical role in the ballpark experience."
Teams are increasingly hiring data analysts and even data scientists to help make sense of all this information. Whereas in the past, teams might only have access to data regarding the initial sale of a given ticket, today they can track resales on StubHub, ticket transfers and all the details surrounding each of these transactions.
During the game, teams once relied upon basic statistics like batting average, home runs, walks, etc. Today we are tracking WAR, BABIP, launch angles, exit velocity and route efficiency. And we’re using this data to make better decisions in the draft, better decisions at the trade deadline and better decisions on-the-field.
How do the Giants use mobile applications to engage fans around the stadium?
Connectivity has been fundamental to the AT&T Park experience since the very beginning. In 2000, each suite holder was provided with six data jacks enabling access to free high-speed dial-up connections, upgraded to DSL soon thereafter. In 2004, wired connectivity gave way to Wi-Fi, with AT&T Park featuring the first ballpark-wide free Wi-Fi network, ”from the gates of Willie Mays Plaza to the shores of McCovey Cove.”
Wi-Fi usage really began to spike in 2007 with the debut of the iPhone. Today, 40 percent of fans routinely access the free attwifi network via 1,628 access points. The other 60 percent take advantage of a neutral-host distributed antenna system (DAS) that provides high-speed connectivity to AT&T customers along with the other three major wireless carriers.
With all this connectivity came the opportunity to provide Giants fans with custom content to enhance their ballpark experience. The Giants "Digital Dugout” application debuted in 2004, optimized for laptops and the Compaq iPaq Pocket PC. Early features on the Digital Dugout included replays-on-demand, closed-captioning and a ”food finder” feature. Today, the Dugout has been replaced by MLB.com’s Ballpark application, available at all 30 MLB facilities. Video capabilities, statistics and scoring have been greatly enhanced over the years, and Ballpark even tracks your attendance at every MLB game automatically, leveraging iBeacon technology.
In the early years of AT&T Park, connectivity was a luxury appreciated by the tech-savvy crowd who regularly attend Giants games. But today, connectivity has become a necessity at most every ballpark, just as critical to the fan experience as seats, food, the video board or restrooms.
What should attendees be getting excited for in the future?
When AT&T Park opened in 2000, it would have been hard to imagine how technology, particularly wireless technology, would play such a critical role in the ballpark experience. Ordering pizza delivered to your seat via your phone; sharing a photo with friends instantly; capturing the final out via video on your phone; upgrading your seat; checking traffic and finding the optimal route home as you exit the stadium—all possible today, and unimaginable 16 years ago.
So how will the fan experience change in the next 16 years? Will you still worry about charging your phone during the game, or will battery advancements or wireless charging eliminate this need? Will you be worried about securing the cheapest or closest parking spot, or will your driverless car drop you off pregame and whisk you away when summoned? Will you be watching the game from your seat, or will you be following the action from the dugout or even the field, leveraging the latest virtual reality headset? Will you pay for your beer with cash, credit, your phone, your watch or your finger? Will umpires call balls and strikes, or will a machine?
Only time will tell. But two things are certain: the fan experience in 2032 will be nothing like we imagine it to be in 2016. Yet while the experience may change, the Giants and AT&T Park are here to stay.