RealTime IT News

How Cisco's Wiring Yankees' New Ballpark

NEW YORK -- Even sports fans can't deny that one of the most closely watched development projects here in the Big Apple is the construction of the new Yankee Stadium, slated for opening April 9.

But even the nation's national pastime must change with the times, just like the "House that Ruth Built" is changing. In today's wireless, ultra-connected society, that translates into designing a stadium that supports a grand vision of fan connectivity and interactivity throughout the venue.

The Yankees have tapped Cisco Systems to handle the heavy lifting for the job. Together, the Yankees and the world's leading networking vendor are putting into place what executives are calling "the most technologically advanced infrastructure of any stadium in America, and perhaps, the world," according to Ron Ricci, vice president of corporate positioning at Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO).

The House that Cisco Wired

Initially, visitors to the new Yankee Stadium will be able to monitor the progress of the game on 1,100 high-definition displays throughout the stadium -- in hallways, bars, suites and even bathrooms.

The Yankees will have very granular management of the monitor network, being able to push out content in real-time -- pre-game stats and feeds from team warm-up, instant statistics during the game, and traffic updates afterward. Sudden events -- like a home run -- can be flashed up on the displays, as can emergency information.

In the stadium's luxury suites, displays will be linked to Cisco IP phones, which will serve as remote controls, enabling users to change their view of the game. They will also be able to place orders for food through the phones, and, within about a year, purchase team merchandise.

But the ultimate plan is even grander. Once the monitor network is in place, Cisco and the Yankees plan to expand the stadium's features. One enhancement will be wireless access throughout the venue, ultimately enabling smartphone users to download a widget via which they can watch live video and replays, view stats and order food from their seats.

Fans also will be able to interact with the stadium's systems to take part in live polling and to access and send clips to friends elsewhere.

"Over time, you will, as a fan, be able to comment in terms of how you think the players are doing, interview players ... watch your favorite players on the field, watch your favorite replays and shoot those to your roommate who's clearly rooting for the wrong team," Cisco CEO John Chambers said during a press conference here today.

While today's focus was chiefly on enhancements for the fan experience, other stadium activities -- like its front-office operations and non-game events -- will also get a boost from the improvements.

For instance, the stadium's offices will see a dramatic increase in bandwidth. "Our computers are running at a bandwidth of 100 megabits, while our next stadium will be running with 10 gigabits," Lonn Trost, the Yankees' COO, said during the conference. "We won't be using the T1 lines -- we'll be using D3 providing 135 gigabits. Our ability to function within that building will be greatly enhanced."

Players will see touchscreen computers installed at their lockers, making it easier to participate in the Yankees' video coaching efforts.

Additionally, the stadium's enhanced connectivity will play a big role in beefing up its capabilities as a venue for business meetings and other nongame events -- parties, corporate gatherings and the like. Videoconferencing capabilities will be amped up, with more, higher-grade displays and faster, larger connections.

Not as Costly?

Doing so won't cost that much for a multibillion-dollar sports and media giant like the Yankees. Chambers said the work cost the team around $15 million to $16 million. The idea is that by rolling in advanced features, it'll greatly improve the experience for fans, driving new sales and increasing the Yankees' already sprawling fan base, while also make the venue more useful to the team's business operations and more appealing as a site for corporate meetings and events.

"Fans in the future will expect technology to be an integral part of their experience," Chambers said. "It's not a lot [of money] but the concept is that this will change sports across the world."

Added Hal Steinbrenner, co-chairman and treasurer of the Yankees, "It's just amazing to me the things that can be done. "When we say it'll be second to none in terms of technology, it's not an understatement at all."

Video in the Hood

Meanwhile, the deal allows Cisco to flex its muscles in delivering video and other streaming content -- an area in which the company been pushing heavily of late.

The initiative also is in keeping with a wider effort by Major League Baseball (MLB) and its franchises to better leverage the Internet. For years, the league has been experimenting with Internet broadcasting and selling online video through an initiative that's today known as MLB Mosaic. More recently, its MLB Advanced Media division unveiled a revamped Mosaic with higher-quality, widescreen video supporting multiple simultaneous views during games.

The stadium's improved connectivity also will enable players and staff to interact with the local community.

"We are going to be installing telepresence in a library in the Bronx, so some of the neighborhood kids will be able to interact with the Yankees," Ricci said. "As a kid, I learned how to do division trying to figure out batting averages and ERA. I know that is going to create what is truly going to be the 21st century fan expectation for the Yankees fan. Imagine learning long division from Derek Jeter!"

Trost added, "Sports players, they're role models. We have major social responsibilities ... We're going to be able to reach out to local communities, to schools, libraries, hospitals, and in a real-time basis, teach and mentor from our staff and our players."

With such an aggressive bandwidth allocation, the idea is that the stadium will be equipped for future innovations, as well.

"Let's make this work well when the stadium opens, but over time, catching your imagination," Chambers said. "When you get out of your car, you can see the video if you're running late ... Swap tickets from friends, order things from your seat -- first from the luxury boxseats, but over time, this will spread to all devices in the stadium."

Added Trost, "What we've tried to do is create an architecture to create everything we've discussed ... when we bring it online is really dependant on how fast we can establish what the fans' needs are."

"We need to walk before we can run. But we've laid the pavement -- the highways are there."