Digital Transformation in the Dugout
Opening Day at Fenway Park is indescribable. On this day in Boston, hope reigns supreme throughout Red Sox Nation.
Walking through the gates for the first time each year makes me feel like I’ve traveled back in time – from the old wooden seats and the notorious “Green Monster,” to the decades-old Citgo sign and the ballpark’s historic charm. Nothing in Fenway feels like it has changed since 1912. And that’s the way I like it.
And although the stadium is trapped in the last century, baseball – and the multi-billion dollar business surrounding it – has come a long way. Baseball is well into the age of the digital transformation – one that requires Major League Baseball to completely reinvent itself by keeping fans connected both in the stands and at home.
MLB just announced that it’s partnering with Apple to provide iPads in all MLB dugouts and bullpens starting this year.
Managers, players and coaches can use these iPads to access a proprietary MLB dugout app that gives them a chance to view stats and videos when making in-game decisions. That’s a game changer.
So while every team in MLB knows to shift the defense to right field when Big Papi comes to the plate, defensive managers can now do player-by-player, pitch-by-pitch analysis of how to optimize their odds of winning, Big data, instantly, delivered via mobile. That real-time insight is undoubtedly priceless to the teams using it.
That’s why when devices – and the services behind them – fail, those who depend on them get frustrated. Take last year’s AFC championship game between the Patriots and the Broncos. During the first half of the game, the Patriots were unable to access critical game plays and stats on their Microsoft Surface Tablets (which all NFL teams now have). CNET reported that the outage was caused by a network cable malfunction, not a tablet malfunction.
As big data, connectivity and real-time interaction make their way into professional sports, it’s critical that the networks that support all of these devices work every time, all the time. Teams can’t afford to lose real-time data on game day. The stakes are too high.
For MLB to truly be successful this season, the digital transformation needs to happen both on the field and in the stands.
Fans also expect that they can interact with their mobile devices any time during their visit to the stadium. At stake is millions of dollars in revenue – through team apps, merchandising opportunities, paying for concessions, videos, on-demand statistics, and much more.
I can recall the first years of the iPhone at Fenway Park. For the first two years in a row, voice and text access was barely available and web surfing was impossible. It was so bad I called my provider two years in a row to complain.
A few years passed, but service finally improved. Now, when my kids go to a game with me, they’re taking photos in the stadium and posting them to social media. Fenway hosts 36,000 people 80 times a year, and they are all connected. Sports stats, texts, Snapchats, and thousands of pictures and video streams are making their way to the cloud. Always on connectivity at Fenway not only means free advertising for the team through Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter, but it also connects fans in a way that was never possible before.
And it is not just baseball. I recently was at a Indy car-racing event in California and I downloaded the associated app, which was pretty cool – real-time access to data directly from, and about the cars, and details like car position, current and lap speed, and background driver info. It even showed a real-time animation of the cars racing around the track. Incredible.
Digital transformation is changing sports for good. Mobility in the dugout, the race pit and in the stands provides a truly greater experience for all.