With iBeacon, MLBAM Enhances Location Capabilities of At the Ballpark App

Imagine walking through the gates of your favorite ballpark, and, without your pushing a button, your iPhone knows you’re there. As you pass through the turnstile, your mobile device checks you in, pulls up an interactive map, shares food- and beverage-ordering information, maybe suggests a seat upgrade or an exclusive offer.

Sound farfetched? It’s currently happening at 22 stadiums across Major League Baseball — with additional venues coming on board later this season — thanks to Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM) and Apple’s iBeacon technology.

“[We’re] really trying to take some of the friction off of some of those activities and help the fans do what they want to do with our technology,” says Joe Inzerillo, SVP, content technology/CTO at MLBAM. “Being able to understand that they’re in a ballpark or potentially even what part of a ballpark they’re in just allows us to surface more content, offers, [and] things like that that are going to improve the fan experience without putting any burden on the fan to do it.”

Prior to the 2014 season, MLBAM announced an upgrade to its popular MLB.com At the Ballpark app, including a complete redesign for iOS 7, partnership integration with MapQuest, and iBeacon technology support.

Apple iBeacon hardware emits a Bluetooth low-energy signal, which iOS devices detect, and uses geofencing for micro-location awareness. The device, such as an iPhone or iPad, alerts the enabled app — in this case, At the Ballpark — that the user is approaching or leaving a location with an iBeacon. In addition, the app can estimate proximity to an iBeacon.

That technology, says Inzerillo, could enable teams to point fans to bathrooms with shorter lines, nearby hotdog vendors, and more. Knowing a fan’s location, as well as his or her habits while at a game, gives teams greater insight into the fan than a simple “check in” on Facebook or FourSquare.

“This is a trend in the industry,” says Inzerillo. “Understanding the context of what people are trying to do and being able to better service that context without putting burden on the customer is really where everybody wants to go. iBeacon is a really important part of that.”

The San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers were the first teams to adopt the technology, permanently installing 65 iBeacons throughout Petco Park and Dodger Stadium earlier this year. Additional teams followed suit — including the Philadelphia Phillies, New York Mets, and San Francisco Giants — and, by Opening Day 2014, at least 20 venues were permanently equipped with the technology. Although Inzerillo does not see across-the-board installation’s necessarily happening this season, initial reports from venues that have the technology are promising.

“The first planning meeting I sat in early this year, we were talking about five ballparks, and now we’re at 22 installed,” says Inzerillo. “We clearly have some momentum, and we’re really starting to get exciting data. … If the teams and the venues and everybody agree with us that this is a cool thing for the fan, you would hope that, at some point, we can get all 30 ballparks.”