When baseball begins again in St. Louis next spring, the St. Louis Cardinals will be playing in a new $400 million...
ballpark designed to look old, the latest among many retro stadiums built in the past decade.The team's loyal fans would probably say they don't need new high-tech gizmos to bring them to the old ball game. But thanks to Internet Protocol (IP) telephony services being installed in the new Busch Stadium, fans could soon be calling up the stats for first baseman Albert Pujols or ordering their beers and brats, for that matter, without stirring from their seats. Negotiations for integrated voice and data services began more than two years ago, in the early planning stages for the ballpark, said Joe Abernathy, vice president of stadium operations for the team. "We were faced with an opportunity and the challenge of getting the most out of our dollars for the technology at the new ballpark. We could put in a full-blown network in the building for Internet access and a phone system or consider IP telephony, where essentially the wiring is the network," he said. Abernathy turned for help to SBC Communications Inc., its longtime phone provider and a big corporate presence in St. Louis. The company took Cardinals management on a field trip to SBC Park in San Francisco to show off the system there. That network, which uses equipment from Nortel Networks, has spilled from back-office operations to the stadium, one of the world's largest Wi-Fi hot spots. The San Francisco Giants host a Web site where fans not only can order food and access player statistics from their laptops or any other wireless-enabled device but be served up a stream of advertisements for tickets and other paraphernalia. Impressed by the neat applications, Abernathy said his first priority was buying a network that could reliably address the team's business operations, from office communications to the all-important job of selling tickets. Valued by Forbes at $370 million, the Cardinals posted revenue of $151 million in 2004, $73 million from gate receipts. "Selling tickets is the lifeline of our business, so having the ability to handle those calls in a quick and timely manner is very important," Abernathy said. Steve Busselman, integrated solutions specialist for SBC, agreed. "If we design a system that has all these great bells and whistles but doesn't act as the phone does, it would be a failed installation."