What You Can Do with Wi-Fi at a Stadium

By CIOinsight  |  Posted 10-01-2004
There's just no escaping the Wi-Fi hype.

Even modest forecasts, such as those from Cambridge, U.K.-based Analysys Group, anticipate Wi-Fi-related services will generate revenues of up to $3 billion by 2007.

And as the cost of infrastructure begins to fall, suppliers will likely look to add value to Wi-Fi connectivity by providing their customers with customized wireless content—just like the dot-com era entrepreneurs who suddenly rediscovered that "content is king."

If this happens, Orlando, Fla.-based Kosmo Studios will be ready.

The four-year-old multimedia company specializes in what it calls "Value Based On a user's specific Location" (V-BOL), a marketing-friendly way of saying that Kosmo develops programming designed to improve a customer's experience at a sports venue or a theme park by providing entertainment and information through Wi-Fi access on site.

Kosmo Studio's Digital Media Hub lets companies link customized digital media with repurposed content from a host of devices that their customers can then access on PDAs.

Before getting into Wi-Fi, Kosmo Studios had met with some success in creating interactive media. Since 2000, they have worked with Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, Universal Orlando Resort, the Orlando Magic and the Arizona Diamondbacks to provide interactive media and kiosks throughout their venues.

CEO Richard Mayberry, and the company's president, John Kaminski, saw the opportunity in early 2002 to use Wi-Fi as another way to add entertainment value to the end-user through interactive media.

The Pittsburgh Steelers did too—they looked to Kosmo Studios, who already provided the stadium's executive suites with interactive kiosks, to implement the first Wi-Fi Interactive Media System.

Kosmo equipped 6,000 of the luxury club seats at Heinz Field with Wi-Fi access to instant video replay, available from four angles and able to download in eight seconds. The Steelers have also begun using Wi-Fi for merchandise and food sales in the stadium.

But Mayberry and Kaminski refer to their recent project for the San Francisco Giants as the "Rolls-Royce" version of Wi-Fi—SBC Park is estimated to have spent $200,000 on Wi-Fi infrastructure, the largest Wi-Fi access of its kind, with over 120 access points available stadiumwide. (The Steelers spent half that much for their much less extensive version.)

From their seats in SBC Park, fans can access the Giants Digital Dugout, a display of interactive content that includes trivia, video highlights, and links to information on the scoreboard. Fans can look up their favorite players' stats, visit the Giants' official Web site, or play interactive games online. On opening day 2005, the Giants hope to offer fans access to instant video replay.

The chance to be the most informed, up-to-speed fan in your section is one way to improve your experience at a game—although others might find this technology distracting.

If Kosmo Studios is right in claiming their technology does improve the satisfaction level of fans, then the Giants will likely benefit from repeat customers: Researchers at the Westlake Village, Calif.-based J.D. Power and Associates say that 86 percent of the most satisfied fans would return to another game.

"With so many different types of entertainment options available, it's crucial for team owners and event organizers to understand the expectations of sports consumers and to provide them with the best possible service and experience," says Jim Gaz, director of the sports and entertainment practice at J.D. Power and Associates.

Kosmo Studios predicts that interactive Wi-Fi content will become even more in demand with the introduction of Wi-Fi-enabled cell phones, 7.4 million of which are set to be released in the next two and half years, according to analysts at IDC.

But not everyone agrees.

Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner, Inc., argues that there won't be an overwhelming use for Wi-Fi enabled mobile phones.

"The move to mobile phones becomes more difficult not only because of the varied screen sizes, but also because each operator has a different portal implementation that makes maintenance difficult," says Dulaney. He also suggests that marketing initiatives through Wi-Fi generally won't produce direct profit.

Either way, Mayberry and Kaminski plan to concentrate their efforts in sports venues, but they're also currently trying to push the Wi-Fi concept into other public spaces, like museums and shopping centers, where PDA's and cell phones can be used to target location-specific information.

Walking through the mall, a person can use their PDA to have access to discounts and coupons, be alerted of nearby sales, get directions to the closest restroom, or even find where their kids have wandered off to.

What content will be so cool that we'll want it coming between us and an art exhibit at the museum is anybody's guess, but, if analysts can be believed, it'll be worth a slice of $3 billion.