In Tennessee, Minor League Baseball Meets the Physical Web

Fans of the Nashville Sounds Minor League Baseball team used their phones to access player statistics, read baseball trivia and find the nearest peanuts and Cracker Jack… or beer.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Sep 21, 2016

The Nashville Sounds, a Triple-A affiliate of the Oakland Athletics, missed out on a slot in Minor League Baseball's Pacific Coast League championships this fall. But the team is now looking to score with a system by which fans could use their smartphones to easily access information regarding players and baseball fun facts, as well as special food and drink deals from stadium vendors.

During four late-season games, the Sounds tested a proof-of-concept (PoC) network of 28 Bluetooth beacons installed across Nashville's 10,000-seat First Tennessee Park, where the team plays, along with a smartphone app, provided by Bkon, a Nashville-based company that, in addition to selling Bluetooth beacons (dubbed bkons), developed all of the content, as well as a smartphone app on its beacon-management platform, known as

Bkon's smartphone app
The application was built on the Eddystone-URL protocol (also known as the Physical Web protocol), which is part of Eddystone, an open-source Bluetooth beacon platform developed by Google. Eddystone enables a beacon to transmit a URL via a Bluetooth connection that causes information related to that URL to appear in the receiving smartphone's compatible browser (these include Chrome, Opera and BeaconSage), or through Google's Nearby application, which is available on devices with Android 4.4+ and Google Play Services 9.2.55+. This direct-to-URL approach to interacting with connected devices is referred to as The Physical Web.

As far as Bkon knows, this was the first time a large-scale Physical Web beacon network, offering what the company calls "a dynamic and engaging range of promotions, content and incentives," has been deployed within a sports stadium.

The key difference between the Physical Web protocol and conventional beacon protocols, such as iBeacon, is that the former allows an end user's phone to pull the information from the internet (via a browser), whereas the latter pushes information to the end user through an application. However, says Bkon CEO Richard Graves, some of Bkon's clients still want to offer a smartphone application so that users receive push notifications rather than having to check a Physical Web browser or Android's Nearby app for updates. (Nearby does push a message to users the first time a Physical Web beacon is detected, but the user must thereafter check her Nearby for updates.)

Bkon offers a software development kit (SDK) that enables its customers to have apps created for Physical Web beacons. For the Sounds PoC, Bkon created a smartphone app called Sounds Gameday. "Those who are used to using an app could access the Sounds Gameday app, but [all of the same content] was also available through Chrome iOS."

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