Vivid Sky to test handheld devices at MLB parks

In an age when a scorecard and pencil is as rare a sight at a baseball game as a hittable pitch thrown to Barry Bonds maybe it only makes sense that companies like Vivid Sky should move the baseball fan closer to the nirvana of the electronic scorecard.

The best seat in the stadium is often on your couch at home, says Tim Hayden, president of Vivid Systems. Our goal is to help people stop missing plays and get a chance to see the different angle on a play that the fans at home see. We also hope to stop people from missing plays while on line at the concession stand and also put an end to cold nachos and warm beer.

Vivid Sky has built a ruggedized device that rides a local WiFi network to deliver a variety of next-generation services to fans. The SkyBox system lets fans in the seat access video streams, statistics, graphics, out-of-town scores and even place orders for food through a ruggedized device leased for the game. Users can also access the network through Pocket PCs, Treos and other hand-held devices.

Expect to see VividSky on a trial basis at four Major League Baseball ballparks this season. The tests will involve up to 300 people at each facility and is expected to be completed by the All-Star break. Three NFL teams are also expected to test it this fall.

The device, at least in demos, does it all. Users have access to four streams of live video as the system taps into the scoreboard video system. A heavy-duty laptop with the SkyBox software is tied into the scoreboard video system, encoding the in-house video feeds into Macromedia Flash. It s then pumped out to fans via WiFi.

We looked into pushing it to cellphones but the bandwidth is still too tight, says Hayden. And making it available on demand for cellphones was even tougher.

Other features include statistics and graphics that display the pitch location for the last batter, where the last 10 balls put into play landed, and where the game s homeruns landed. Fans will also be able to order food through the system and, via triangulation, have food delivered to where ever they re located.

Hayden says renting the device will cost between $10-$20 while those who already have a device like a Pocket PC can access the network for $3-$5. Season ticket holders and corporate suites could have the service bundled in with their plans, giving an added perk (and incentive) to those who keep coming back.

We ll be looking at any opportunity to lower the price point, says Hayden. For example, if fans order enough food through the system they could get a refund for all or part of the fee.

VividSky isn t the first to attempt to enhance the arena or stadium experience through high-tech. Choice Seat, a service launched by Williams Communication that installed 10-inch LCD screens on the back of seats in Madison Square Garden. The problem, however, was not the service itself but that it was hardwired and also had fans looking at the back of the seat in front of them instead of the game.

About 80% of fans kept coming back and asking for those exact seats so that led us to think that maybe this is an untapped market, says Hayden.

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