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

In Seattle, OSIsoft worked with the Mariners' stadium and other vendors to establish a sensor network to reduce water use. This might seem like an odd objective in the Pacific Northwest, but the treatment and transport of water has a very large carbon footprint. The companies managed to cut 2 million gallons and decrease water costs by 10 percent during the span of three years.

Now, OSIsoft has partnered with Qualcomm in its hometown of San Diego to outfit the Padres' Petco Park with a network of sensors from which data is routed via a gateway (manufactured by an as-yet-unnamed OEM) that uses Qualcomm's Snapdragon processor. OSIsoft can provide the park with an overview of how much water, power and natural gas are being used across the ballpark at any given time, and the expectation is that the stadium will use this new visibility to consume resources more efficiently and lower its operational expenses by more than 25 percent by 2021.

The system displays data in real time (click on the above image to view a larger version).
Martin Otterson, OSIsoft's senior VP of sales, marketing and industry, told me that the long-term vision is that the park could work very closely with San Diego's utility providers to move toward a business model by which the stadium and even its tenants (vendors, concessionaires and so forth) could pay for energy and water based on how much they use and when they use it. To accomplish this goal, the stadium would install submeters capable of tracking the energy or water consumed by each machine or piece of equipment. This would mean that instead of paying flat rates for utilities, the stadium and tenants would pay only for the water, gas and electricity that they actually consumed. In some cases, this may mean a decrease in utility costs; in others, it might trigger an increase—but also a strong incentive to make efficiency improvements.

Eventually, the stadium could begin generating some of its own energy, via solar panels, wind turbines or even harvesting the footfalls of thousands of fans walking through the stadium, to concession stands, to restrooms, back to their seats, back for more beer, etc. It could then sell any excess energy back to the local utility.

Smarter stadiums enable benefits for fans, too, beyond the shared benefits resulting from a more sustainably run facility. A smartphone app can pull data from motion or other sensors within the stadium to help fans determine which beer stand, restroom or souvenir shop has the shortest line. And if the app also taps into the phone's Bluetooth or Wi-Fi radio, it could provide fans with step-by-step directions to that shortest line. In fact, my friend's dad was just complaining that he slogged through the Oakland Coliseum the other night, searching for popcorn during a standoff between the A's and the Boston Red Sox, but never found a vendor selling the snack. He would have loved an app that could direct him not only to the popcorn, but also the shortest line to buy it. After all, this was his last chance to see David Ortiz before the player retires, and he wanted to get all the stats he could.

Mary Catherine O'Connor is the editor of IoT Journal and a former staff reporter for RFID Journal. She also writes about technology, as it relates to business and the environment, for a range of consumer magazines and newspapers.

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