In the sports-event industry, the COVID-19 pandemic created unprecedented challenges. Despite the setbacks, COVID-19 accelerated digital transformation initiatives, resulting in a better experience for fans as they returned to in-person sporting events.
For professional baseball team Boston Red Sox, this meant moving to 100 percent digital ticketing at America’s most beloved ballpark, known better as Fenway Park.
Every fan entering the team’s home stadium now uses a mobile phone to scan digital tickets, which has created new opportunities for the Red Sox to offer additional mobile services during games. This has also cut down on the ability to counterfeit ticket and helps Major League Baseball (MLB) better control the aftermarket for tickets.
To find out more about the different changes Red Sox is making this year and moving into next year, I recently chatted with Brian Shield, Chief Information Officer (CIO) for the Red Sox, in my first in-person ZKast interview. ZKast’s are done in partnership with eWEEK as part of the eSPEAKS series. See highlights below.
- Fenway Park was built in 1912. It’s approximately 650,000 square feet and can hold nearly 38,000 people. Being more than a hundred years old, the densely-packed stadium presents various impediments to wireless coverage.
- The Red Sox already provides 5G coverage through a partnership with Verizon.
- This year, the Red Sox is migrating to a new WiFi6 infrastructure supplied by Extreme Networks.
- Nearly 600 wireless access points are being deployed in Fenway Park—to be completed over the next couple weeks.
- This will be the stadium’s third upgrade of WiFi, which will enable new Internet of Things (IoT) devices, richer applications, and better video processing for fans, among other things.
- Together WiFi and 5G are providing a complimentary experience to fans, such as additional bandwidth capacity.
- Fans are using mobile devices for everything from watching replays to social media to ordering food so wireless access is critical to fan experience.
- WiFi6 and 5G are significant upgrade to wireless and removes much of the congestion fans would experience in stadium.
- The Red Sox is using Extreme Networks’ analytics platform to gauge how well the WiFi is working and whether there is degradation in performance in certain locations. So far, performance testing has shown exponentially better wireless service inside Fenway Park than ever before. Earlier this year, Extreme was named the official WiFi analytics provider for all of MLB. The standardization across the league enables the league to compare data across ballparks
- During games, the Red Sox presents large amounts of data in real-time, including the spin rate and exit velocity of a traveling ball. The team uses dozens of cameras on pitchers, batters, and position players to collect the data. The data is captured and analyzed, so the Red Sox can learn from it and make future improvements.
- In 2020, the Red Sox moved exclusively to the Google Cloud Platform (GCP) for fan-facing data, and to Salesforce for customer relationship management (CRM). GCP provides a wealth of real time data to both fans and team personnel, helping to improve the game.
- One reason why the Red Sox selected GCP is to “create a single view of the fan.” In addition to digital ticketing, the Red Sox is experimenting with facial recognition for faster entry to Fenway Park.
- Going completely digital creates privacy and security concerns, which the Red Sox has addressed in different ways.
- Quarterly compliance expectations tackle privacy laws like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
- The Red Sox do not store personal information beyond what is needed to provide fans with an experience during games.
- The Red Sox has implemented a host of security tools to safeguard its own data against cyber threats.
- Another aspect of digitization is finding a balance between technology and humanity. While some parts of the game have been automated for time management and accuracy, there are certain human aspects that aren’t going away any time soon.
- Umpires, for instance, have been part of baseball since its inception to initiate games and will continue to play an important role.
- In some use cases, leveraging technology might make sense to ensure that the game is played in the fairest way possible.
- The core goal is to make games better with the help of technology, not replacing people with technology.
Also, in the interview, Shield shares his thoughts on his favorite players, Fenway moments and who he likes in a “must win” game – but you’ll need to watch the video to find out.