Seahawks Go for Wow

Sports team turns to viewsonic tablet pcs to outfit new stadium.

When the National Football Leagues Seattle Seahawks team was looking for ways to improve the ticket holders experience in its spanking-new Seahawk Stadium last year, it turned to technology, specifically tablet computers with wireless Internet access.

But rather than using the machines to improve the efficiency of some nontechnical process or bolster communications, the tablets were deployed exclusively as amenities—accoutrements, if you will—for the stadiums new 83 executive box suites.

With one season under its belt and the 2003-04 season just kicking off, the moves been spot on so far. Each of the ViewSonic Corp. ViewPad 1000s outfitting the stadiums executive suites were used in each of the teams 10 home games last season (which included two preseason games), far exceeding initial usage estimates. And by the close of last season, suite ticket holders ranked the box amenities, which also included a 34-inch high-definition TV, above all other aspects of the experience.

Sound like a no-brainer business decision? Think again.

With executive suite customers paying $50,000 to $150,000 annually for 10 games, and others paying $7,000 to $15,000 per game, making those fans happy, or at least feel as though theyre getting their moneys worth, becomes critical.

"Our goal is, as much as we can, to add to the entire experience," said Ron Jenkins, executive director of marketing with the Seahawks. "Dining, general service, amenities, parking—things that we can control [to help] minimize the outcome on the field."

To accomplish that, the Seahawks knew that putting standard PCs with flat-panel displays in the suites and running Category 5 cabling between them wasnt going to cut it—especially when the team owner is tech luminary Paul Allen.

"If you were walking into a building operated by our owner, youd be expecting something—and you may not even know what that is—thats going to wow you from a tech standpoint," Jenkins said.

Still, Jenkins, who was impressed with the ViewPads sleek design and features, was initially leery about deploying such a nascent technology. He said preliminary research had shown him that if a user is unsure of a tablet, he or she will hesitate to use it "for fear of messing up or breaking it."

Jenkins, however, saw no other choice. If the team wanted the critical wow factor, it was going to have to go with the tablets. The next challenge for Jenkins group was to find a way to help customers overcome potential hesitancy. To do it, the group deployed a small team of eight IT people on game day to patrol the boxes and assist customers.

"There were people who were confused," but for most fans, the units were easier to use than theyd expected, Jenkins said. And after a quick tutorial, they were "off and running" surfing the Web and even taking digital pictures of their guests and mailing them, Jenkins said.

"If not for the on-site tech people for game day support, the launch wouldve taken a little longer," Jenkins said. He added that the Seahawks had hoped half the units would be used that first day. The team was pleased to learn that all 83 were used that day and every week thereafter throughout last season.

Part of the executive suite package allows ticket holders entry into the stadium 3 hours before kickoff as a courtesy to help them avoid stadium traffic. According to Jenkins, fans now spend that time before the game on the ViewPad 1000s doing things such as checking e-mail, surfing the Web and getting work done.

The 1000s are based on Microsoft Corp.s Tablet PC operating system and are linked to a Hewlett-Packard Co. server and the Internet via an 802.11b wireless connection. Also included are wireless keyboards. In addition, customers can access the wireless network with their own 802.11b-compliant hardware, whether its a PDA or a notebook.

Going forward, the Seahawks are considering the possibility of offering video-on-demand capabilities that would be delivered through a separate source in the stadium and would let ticket holders call up a replay of any play at any time during the game.

Until then, the Seahawks of 2003-04 are a long way from where they were just two short years ago: playing in a college stadium while Seahawk Stadium was being built to replace the old Kingdome.