Big Tech Meets MLB Playoffs

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Wednesday afternoon's first post-season Major League Baseball game between Tampa Bay and Texas is the perfect time to reflect on the intersection of big tech and America's favorite pastime.

Tech and baseball mixed long before the Moneyball phenomenon some eight years ago, but it wasn't until then that we started to see the advent of general managers hiring CIOs and companies like ScoutAdvisor and IBM ( IBM) selling teams powerful slice-and-dice statistical software, allowing scouts and front offices to get fancy and sophisticated with player analysis.
San-Francisco-Giants-AT&T-Park

Today, in an era where beloved, monumental stadiums are being replaced by souped-up, Wi-Fi-enabled technology hubs -- like San Francisco's AT&T Park, above, and the Minnesota Twins' new Target Field -- the technology ecosystem supporting major league baseball is as state-of-the-art as anything else in Silicon Valley.

Post-Season Logjam

Brian Lamoreaux, director of information systems for the Philadelphia Phillies, said that the playoffs bring a unique set of challenges to Citizens Bank Park. "Cell phone use within the stadium is very different during a post-season and World Series game, compared to a regular game," he told TheStreet. "During the post-season last year, we noticed that phone coverage became saturated -- it's because so many pictures are being captured and sent."

Lamoreaux, owner of three championship rings thanks to the Phillies' recent successes, is keen to avoid a repeat during the 2010 post season. "We worked very closely with AT&T ( T) and installed over 100 antennas on their 3G system inside the ballpark," he said. "We rolled it out in July -- that has also helped things like the MLB.com AtBat app on iPhone and BlackBerrys."

The San Francisco Giants have also adjusted their IT strategy to cope with the demands of fall baseball. The team revolutionized its ticketing last season, implementing dynamic pricing. Similar to the pricing systems used by airlines, it allows the Giants to update their ticket pricing in real time, according to demand and other variables (weather, opponents, the day's lineup) at AT&T Park.

"We're the first team in professional sports that has done it across their entire venue," said Giants' CIO Bill Schlough, who worked with software startup Qcue to implement the system. " For every seat in our stadium that is not a season ticket, the price changes every day."

For big games such as this week's divisional series against the Braves, dynamic pricing helps divert money from scalpers into the Giants' coffers. Conversely, it also lets the Giants lower their prices for less popular games. "It's filling the park with a lot of folks that couldn't afford to come," said Schlough.

This approach appears to working: The Giants have reportedly increased their ticket revenue by between 7% and 8% this season.

Storage and Scouting

The Cleveland Indians were nowhere near the playoffs, but the Tribe is following the tech trend, working with storage firm CommVault ( CVLT) to boost performance both on and off the field.

"We have got a ton of video, still imagery, and graphics for the scoreboard," Whitney Kuszmaul, the Indians' network manager, told TheStreet, explaining that CommVault's Simpana software provides much-needed backup. The Indians also use video for scouting and player development and the team spends about a quarter of its IT capital expenditure on storage.

Despite that figure, baseball teams are hardly the biggest hitters in terms of tech spending, although Schlough says that they offer other benefits to Silicon Valley firms. "We're not getting this tech gear for free, but the vendors are getting the exposure because they can use us for case studies to showcase their technology," he said. "What's neat is being able to demonstrate how technology impacts the business of sport or even team performance."

Read on for a sampling of how four post-season teams -- the Yankees, Twins, Giants and Phillies -- are using tech's big tickers.

New York Yankees

It's no surprise that the 27-time World Series Champs are among the most high-tech teams in baseball. Even the heart of the Bombers' clubhouse is cutting edge, according to Mike Lane, the team's senior director of technology. "We have touchscreens on all the players' lockers where our players can go through their video coaching routines," he said of his team's IBM ThinkPads. "The players love the fact that they can access their video."

The touchscreens, mounted at eye level, provide players with information on their schedules and are connected to an in-house messaging system. "The potential is really limitless for what we can provide to the players through this medium," said Lane.

Despite the star power of A-Rod, Jeter (above), and Sabathia, Lane said that he derives most satisfaction from an aspect of Yankee Stadium that no one will even notice. "If you ask me what I am most proud of, it's the redundant technology infrastructure," he said, noting that this ensures that the stadium's wireless and video networks never go down. "No one ever notices because it's always there -- it also allows us to implement new technology without having to worry about retooling or putting in new infrastructure."

The Yankees rely heavily on Cisco ( CSCO) networking gear and have duplicated their entire IT infrastructure. "There are dual switches and dual routers, so if there's something that fails, there's something beside it to ensure that there's no outage," said Lane. "'Nothing can go down' is pretty much our mission statement."

Philadelphia Phillies

It's not just fan attendance that goes through the roof during a playoff run. Teams like the Phillies -- featuring pitcher Cole Hamels, above -- are also besieged by throngs of media. "For a typical game, we have 50 to 100 media attend, but for a World Series, that could increase to 500 or 800," said Lamoreaux. "Everybody wants to come, so we ramp up our Internet bandwidth that we distribute out to support press, broadcasters and bloggers."

The team acts as a service provider during the postseason, supporting everyone from Fox to ESPN. The team, however, works closely with its ISP, ComCast ( CMCSA), to ensure that this runs smoothly. "Our ISP that we use has fiber running into our building," said Lamoreaux. "I can ramp up that bandwidth at pretty much a day's notice."

San Francisco Giants

In addition to pitcher Tim Lincecum (above), Thursday night's post-season game between the Giants and the Braves will showcase some big enhancements to the Giants' IT infrastructure. Bill Schlough, team CIO, told TheStreet that he expects to increase the number of Wi-Fi access points at AT&T Park from 288 to more than 300 during the post-season.

Like the Phillies and the Yankees, the Giants acknowledge the importance of wireless and cellular connectivity for fans and media. Schlough confirmed that the Giants and stadium sponsor AT&T have invested more than seven figures in Wi-Fi and distributed antenna infrastructure. "It would be hard to find a fan coming out of our ballpark that has not made use of his phone at least once," he said. "Enabling mobility at AT&T Park is one of our top priorities."

Minnesota Twins

The Minnesota Twins have more than the American League Central title to celebrate this year: Their new Target Field marks the Twins' return to outdoor baseball for the first time in nearly two decades. In terms of tech, the team inked a multiyear deal with telecom services giant Qwest ( Q) to provide the stadium's IP network infrastructure and unified communications system. The Twins are also using Qwest and Cisco to provide HD content to more than 600 TVs located throughout the 40,000 seat stadium. (The stadium is pictured below; that's pitcher Francisco Liriano up top.)

Target Field

It is not just traditional tech that makes Target Field cutting-edge: Billed as the greenest baseball stadium in the league, the stadium features a rainwater recycling system developed by local company Pentair, which is expected to save more than 2 million gallons of water annually.

"It is impressive," said John Avenson, the Twins' vice president of technology. "You go down there and you wonder whether it's a water filtration system or a time machine - it looks like part of a sci-fi movie scene."

--Written by James Rogers in New York.

>To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/jamesjrogers.

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