Baseball + Wifi

Benny Evangelista writes an interesting article for the SF Chronicle on the recently installed wifi at SBC Park. I read about the new wifi several weeks ago before opening day, but this is the first I’ve seen public mention about it in local media. Note: “SBC Park has been outfitted with 121 high-speed wireless Internet access points, making the ballpark one giant Wi-Fi hot spot.

Now one can watch the Giants, pull up any kind of stats, replay video, and apparently, even pretend to be working. Some fans are understandably upset. They don’t like the idea of ruining the sport with additional technology brought into the park. When I first saw the news about the wifi, my first reaction was “Why would you ever want to lug a laptop with you to a game?” Wouldn’t it kind of ruin the spontaneity of jumping up to cheer when Bonds cracks his homers into McCovey Cove?

However, I can also see the brilliance in the idea, despite the fact that I’d feel iffy about using it. I mean, baseball isn’t exactly the most non-stop action-packed sport we’ve invented. There are tons of lulls in the game, which make it a great social spectator sport: it’s great for conversation with friends and colleagues. Those lulls would make good opportunities to jump online to check email, or prove your point on who held the record for the most stolen bases in ’97 (if you’re into that kind of thing). Baseball is one of the only sports I can think of that attracts so many stats-freaks. To them, I can see wifi access is a dream come true.

For the fans who object to bringing technology into the stadium, just look at how many of them already bring in small radios — some even bring televisions — to complement the action with live commentary. Laptops and PDAs are the next logical step. Customized information available on demand. Eventually, fans will even be able to order any of the numerous types of food available at the park without leaving their seats. Imagine the possibilities for real-time sports blogging and personal stats reporting. I can already hear the mass-media reporters downplaying their new competition from amateurs parked in the crowd armed with a laptop or PDA.

Overall, I think wifi at a ballpark a great idea that just needs time to catch on and gain acceptance with the crowd. I think the only issue about laptops at sporting events is they just seem so much geekier than a small radio and pair of headphones. Laptops are certainly a lot more expensive than radios or TVs, so they’ll carry some sort of stigma for a few years. I imagine the reaction by many fans to seeing someone pop open a laptop at the ballpark would be similar to the sight of someone doing the same in a sports bar. Personally, I’d be a little worried about someone spilling beer on my open laptop as they were squeezing by, or passing one over me.