How MLB ballparks should use mobile tech to better serve the fans

A recent excursion to a playoff game got me thinking how ballpark operators could make the experience better. Since everyone has a smartphone close at hand, this could be the way to do it.

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Take me out to the ballpark
I recently had the good fortune to attend a playoff game in Minute Maid Park in Houston, between the Astros and KC Royals. There were over 42,000 fans in attendance and likely just as many smartphones with them.

The outing was electric, but the long lines at the concession stands marred the experience. So many long lines, often slow service, and the old-school (and insecure) payment method turned trips for ballpark food and drink into frustrating periods away from the game.

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With smartphones everywhere, it was apparent to me that a better way to dish out concessions was needed. After the game a quick look online around MLB ballparks uncovered one such method.

Chase Field in Phoenix, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, has a service that looks convenient for fans. Using an iPhone or Android app, concessions are ordered right from the attendee's seat. Once the order is processed, the fan gets a text message telling them when the order is ready and directions to special locations to pick up the food and drink.

I've not been to Chase Field in Phoenix and I'd love to hear from those who've tried the remote ordering in the stadium. If you have, leave a comment to let us know how well it works.

As good as this sounds, I believe it would be even better if it included delivery straight to the stadium seat. The park could have runners delivering orders the entire game, making the process another facet of a great experience going to the ball park.

This would eliminate having to pick up the order at special locations that may not be close to the fan placing the order. I'd love to see such a service in Minute Maid Park in my hometown.

Ballpark operators not wishing to take on orders by phone, delivery to the seat or not, should consider adding mobile payment capability to the concession stands.

A mobile payment system would turn payments into a simple tap of the smartphone on the POS, and that would keep things moving along briskly. I believe the streamlining of payments would pay for itself in no time given the number of sales at a single game like this playoff game. This would be more secure than the old "sign the paper receipt" method in place during the game I attended.

Millions of Android phones and iPhones are mobile payment capable, and even some smartwatches can do them. In such a large crowd as attending this playoff game, a good number should be ready to pay by phone or smartwatch.

These are just two methods that MLB ballparks could use to take advantage of the fact that virtually every attendee has a smartphone at hand. The point is to make a trip -- a very expensive one -- to the ballpark a good experience that fans will tell everyone about.

On a side note, the in-park Wi-Fi and Verizon 4G LTE were both very poor at the game I attended, The big number of attendees surely played a role in the connectivity issues, but I wonder if it also had something to do with all the photos and selfies I saw being taken throughout the game.

If even a fraction of the photo takers had either iCloud or Android automatic photo uploads enabled, this would have been a huge amount of data constantly streaming up to the cloud. Photos can be large, and perhaps this hit the available bandwidth hard. I regularly saw my normally strong Verizon LTE signal drop down to 3G when the pipeline was clogged. I'm not sure what could be done about that.

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