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Ballpark of the future: location-based services, tracking, proximity marketing

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Major League Baseball

Major League Baseball execs laid out their vision of the ballpark of the future, complete with the ability to track your movements across the ballpark and beam messages directly to your iPhone via proximity marketing.

The demo installation at Citi Field was shared with the tech press during the final days of the season, combining elements of unreleased technology and elements slated to be upgraded, including MLB's At the Ballpark mobile app. As reported by Mashable, the plan is to used localizing technology from Apple to track your movements in the ballpark, track purchased for loyalty rewards and beam customized concessions offers to your smartphone, among other things:

By loading the free app when you get off the subway and head towards the stadium, it immediately knows you are at Citi Field. It populates a ballpark guide with information specific to the stadium, so if you were to enter Phillies' Citizens Bank Park, the entire experience and data wouldn't be the same.

As you near the gates, the app displays your ticket's barcode on screen, as well as a map of where the seats are located. If tickets are loaded into Apple Passbook or purchased online through certain ticketing partners, the app will automatically pull them up.

In addition, the app can be programmed to highlight points of interest that can be unlocked. In the Mets' case — at least in terms of the demo — it began playing a video about the history of the stadium while standing near the Mets' iconic apple statue.

Some of the technology exists; some does not. It's built around the iBeacon technology introduced this month in IOS7. iBeacon is basically a localized version of Bluetooth designed for a small, specific area -- like a ballpark -- and consumes less energy than traditional Bluetooth. Some of the technology still needs to be finalized (the MLB demo had prototype iBeacon units), and some of the parameters still need to be worked out, such as privacy settings (are you automatically enrolled in the MLB iBeacon program just by buying an electronic ticket? Can you opt out of some offers and not others?). And the big question for many front-office types: just because MLB teams can be in your face, should they be? In general, ballparks have not been great places for loyalty programs (teams have dropped them over the years), and we can't see a case where Legends is discounting the price of a hamburger at Yankee Stadium: simply put, MLB teams don't play the impulse discount games even where they have the technology with programmable POS systems and dynamic flat-screen displays. We're talking wonderful technology here and we think this is a great way to enhance the ballpark experience, but let's face it: two-thirds of the battle was already won when the fan entered the ballpark, and whether this can actually raise per-caps is a whole different question.

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