Why Stadiums Should Be Early Adopters of Smart-City Tech

Major League Baseball is all about data, and the IoT offers a way for that number-crunching to extend to MLB stadiums as well.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Sep 06, 2016

This spring, Major League Baseball (MLB)'s rules committee gave players the greenlight to use two types of wearable technology during games. One is a sensor-filled sleeve made by a company called Motus that tracks stresses on a pitcher's elbow, so coaches and trainers can help him to reduce the likelihood of a career-ending injury. The other is a heart and breathing monitor made by Zephyr Bioharness. (Given the recent Labor Day holiday in the United States, it's worth noting that the MLB's Players Association has been expressing concern that the use of wearables to track athletes on, and maybe someday off, the field could start to cut into players' privacy—and paychecks.)

Baseball has always been steeped in data, of course. When I was child attending Cubs games in Chicago, one of my friends religiously kept score in her gamebook. In fact, just the other day I noticed that another friend's dad still does this, and when I remarked about how manual scorekeeping now has a nostalgic air, he reminded me that when he first starting going to games, it was the only way to keep tabs favorite teams or players. "Now, there's Jumbotrons and electronics everywhere showing you all the stats," he said, noting that he still likes the feel of pencil on paper.

When it comes to actually powering all those Jumbotrons and ensuring that a park's water infrastructure can handle thousands of toilets flushing at once during the seventh-inning stretch, stadium operations managers also want data—a lot of highly accurate, actionable data.

Stadiums are like little cities and, therefore, are great testbeds for evaluating IoT systems that can augment building-management systems, in order to give stadium owners precise insights into energy and water usage. And because stadiums experience such extremes—from very little load on the local energy grid to massive spikes in consumption within the course of just a few hours—I believe they're especially appealing as environments to test how and whether IoT systems (sensor networks, gateways and data-analytics platforms) can help operations teams make a closed—but grid-connected—system more resilient and responsive to fluctuating demand.

In Ireland, Dublin's Croke Park stadium has become a smart city testbed. In addition to tracking noise levels and water use, it uses motion sensors to understand the movements of people—information that Croke Park can use for a range of applications, including wayfinding and security staffing. Now, the MLB is looking to leverage IoT technology to help improve energy and water usage at all 30 of the league's stadiums throughout North America. To kick off the effort, it started, unsurprisingly, with a focus on data collection. MLB partnered with OSIsoft, a provider of real-time data-analysis software. (While OSIsoft built its business by providing data-historian software, which logs machine data for later analysis, it now also provides real-time data collection and storage services for a number of industries, including energy producers and utility providers.)

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