Big Brother is watching you at Fenway

A wireless access point or antenna hidden inside infield wall.
(photo: Boston Red Sox)
Eric D. Schabell
Contributing Writer

Data collection is everywhere these days.

No matter where you go, if you have a wifi connection then they are collecting data on you.

Shopping and using store wifi? They can collect you shopping habits, monitor your movements around the shop or even the area to she what you are doing. They can then correlate that data with your purchasing habits and target you with ads or offers. It gets even more specific (or worse?) if you have store applications on your mobile devices, they collect and store data too.

Now on to that favorite American pasttime, baseball. Many Major League Baseball parks are providing free wifi to fans, MLB itself provides applications like At Bat and BallPark. These all enhance the fans ballpark experience by providing new ways to cast out into the social media space and share their experiences, allow clubs to connect with fans during the game, offer chances to engage in give-aways and much more. After all, who doesn't want to share that day at Fenway?

Up until July of this year, there was no option for an overseas fan without a data connection on their mobile device as there was no wifi at all available in Fenway Park.

No more, though the path to installing wifi in a 103 year old stadium had its very own hurdles that the Red Sox IT staff had to jump.

"In order to get the deployment approved, we had to work with the Boston Landmarks Commission, the Massachusetts Historical Commission and the National Park Service, take photo simulations of each and every antenna installation we proposed to install, show where it was positioned and how it would be mounted," says Randy George, director of IT operations for the Red Sox.

They installed numerous access points which are basically wifi antennas all around Fenway, but they had to be well hidden and not alter the monumental structure that is Fenway Park. The access points have been hidden on the support columns in each section of the lower level and painted them Fenway green so they blend in. They also placed access points on the sponsor signs above the Green Monster, ran wiring underneath the field and hid 45 more access points in the walls surrounding the field. Fenway has a grand total of 481 access points giving fans total coverage in the ballpark, any seat or area, though only 50 percent of fans at sold-out games can log on and use the network simultaneously. George mentioned that on average only 3,000 fans currently connect at a given event, probably as the wifi availability is not so well know by the fanbase.

"There's been a big push this year by the league and the four major [mobile] carriers to provide expanded Internet connectivity in the ballparks," George says. "It really is a basic fan amenity that our customers expect."

Now back to the data gathering that this network provides.

Imagine when Pablo Sandoval is liking pictures on his mobile in the clubhouse during a game, the data gathered by this network will give 'Money Ball' a new meaning. In reality this will have more effect on what you as a fan are providing as data to be farmed while walking, sitting, eating and just browsing while at Fenway Park on the provided network.

"Our real goal here is to leverage some of the information from fans so we can start to create a much greater experience," says Brian Shield, vice president of IT for the Boston Red Sox. He also hired the Red Sox first-ever data architect to work on these new IT initiatives, several analysts to monitor and analyze fan data, and a dedicated person to manage the CRM environment. Each Wi-Fi usage will give Red Sox a fans email address or social media credentials as well as the types of devices they use.

As most MLB teams share this kinds of data you can expect teams like the Yankees to have your data to analyze and use when you login to their networks should you visit the Red Sox playing the Yankees sometime in the future. They can then use the data streams as for mobile offerings, including in-app features that provide bathroom and concession wait times, and to solve business problems such as how to entice fans to come to games in the colder months.

Last spring the Red Sox IT team created the first version of its fan data warehouse, and it recently developed a second iteration.

"What's wonderful about this customer data warehouse environment, as well as Wi-Fi, is that baseball for many years probably lagged a lot of its business counterparts," Shield says. "That's all changing now, and that window … between baseball and business is closing rapidly."

As fans we can rest assured that Big Brother is watching our every move, tweet and click as we cheer on our beloved Boston Red Sox in the hallowed halls of Fenway Park.

Post a comment or via twitter @erics_redsox with your thoughts.

More by Eric D. Schabell