Major League Baseball Strikes Deal With Qualcomm To Sort Out Wireless In Ballparks

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Major League Baseball is the stuff of Americana and nostalgia, but it’s also trying hard to keep up with the 21st century. Today, MLBAM, its interactive/digital media subsidiary, said that it has inked a deal with Qualcomm, for the latter to provide technology and engineering support to improve mobile networks at 30 Major League Baseball ballparks. The deal follows an agreement struck between T-Mobile and MLBAM in January for the mobile carrier to help finally break the wired link between dugout and bullpen, and comes as the two parties forecast one-thousand-fold demand for mobile data in ballparks in the near future.

The deal — financial terms undisclosed — will see Qualcomm become an official technology partner of MLBAM. Over the next two years — yeah, a little slower than a fastball pitch — Qualcomm will assigning teams of its engineers to each location to figure out how best to build out access to WiFi, 3G and 4G networks, which will be used not only to simply give ballpark visitors access to the Internet, but also to send more digital content their way.

Qualcomm notes that it’s been doing this kind of work already — it helped consult and implement wireless solutions for the Super Bowl, Olympics and NCAA championship games — but it appears that most of that work was done mainly to support carriers. This direct deal opens the door to more permanent solutions for wireless connection, and is a sign of how MLB itself perhaps hopes to profit from the growth, too. That’s part of a bigger trend: in the UK today, Liverpool Football Club announced a new free WiFi network at Anfield Stadium, built collaborating with Xirrus Wi-Fi.

“Mobile data traffic is exploding, particularly in high-traffic areas such as Major League Baseball ballparks,” Anand Chandrasekher, senior vice president and chief marketing officer, Qualcomm, said in a statement. “Qualcomm has been preparing for an astounding 1000x increase in data demand, and we are leading the charge with MLBAM to provide passionate baseball fans with access to digital content, resulting in unparalleled in-ballpark experiences.”

The rise of smartphones and always-connected consumers sharing experiences on social networks has had a massive effect in how live sports are watched — at home, on the move, and at the events themselves.

In stadiums, the stories are not always good news, though. This summer, people who managed to get tickets to the London Olympics were discouraged from tweeting at events because it could create network overloads that would disrupt TV coverage. On the other hand, there is a very lucrative business for those who are offering better network coverage to captivated audiences: they can sell people temporary WiFi access or give it to them free in exchange for them receiving ads.

For its part, MLB needs to address wireless for another reason as well: mobile is the primary platform that consumers use to access its own services.

“Collaborating with an industry leader such as Qualcomm is a critical step in understanding and executing on the engineering challenges to achieve scalable, reliable in-venue connectivity,” Joe Inzerillo , MLBAM senior vice president, content technology and chief technology officer, said in a statement. “Consumer demand continues its ascension as the majority of MLB.com traffic comes from mobile devices, a line our fans first crossed in July 2010. Qualcomm’s experience and expertise will be a valuable resource in this process.”