Baseball teams trying out new apps
Tech me out at the ballgame, check me into the cloud.
The San Francisco Giants, Oakland Athletics and other big-league teams are using Apples iBeacon technology this season to electronically greet fans attending games.
Its part of a larger push by Major League Baseball to incorporate services that give tech-savvy fans more for their money. Baseball is also trying a player-tracking system that can dissect games in a way that will make stat-happy Sabermetrics fans salivate.
But both the Giants and the As are trying to make sure they dont charge too hard at fans with the features.
This technology is so new you really have to balance between providing a fun service the fans can enjoy and being intrusive, said Troy Smith, the As senior director of marketing. Were really taking a conservative approach to it initially to make sure it works.
Apple introduced iBeacon last year. It is akin to orbiting GPS satellites, but instead of covering wide swaths of the Earths surface, iBeacon and other similar low-energy Bluetooth transmitters are designed for indoor locations and smaller venues.Tracking app
They can detect precisely where a person is within a store, an office building or, in this case, a ballpark. Apple iPhones and iPads running on the latest iOS 7 software pick up nearby iBeacon transmissions.
The Giants, who play their home opener Tuesday, installed 19 iBeacons, covering each entrance to AT&T Park. The As also installed iBeacons at each entrance to O.co Coliseum in time for the first game of the season last week.
The small, unobtrusive transmitters were easy to install, like Stick-Ups air fresheners or FasTrak toll tags, said Bill Schlough, who as chief information officer heads the Giants technology innovation team.
The iBeacons will activate MLBs At the Ballpark app, if it has been downloaded to a smartphone and the user has opted to have the transmission recognized.
For now, baseball plans to use iBeacon just for checking in fans. But Schlough says there is no shortage of ideas that fans might see later this season.
For example, teams could provide offers right off the bat, he said. If its their first game, we might offer a discount on future tickets.
Or if the fan is one of the first to enter, they could be offered a chance to watch a little batting practice on the field, he said.
Were going to experiment with it, play around with it, Schlough said.
The As might use it for discount merchandise offers, but nothing is sure just yet, Smith said.
Im sure in the future were going to learn other options and capabilities of the system, he said.
For the As, one immediate benefit is to steer fans to the features already offered by the app, like team videos, instant replays, ballpark maps, ticket purchasing and social media.
The As, which in 2007 became the first team to offer digital tickets on a mobile phone, began using the app last year to push seat upgrades.
If you have a seat on the second deck, you can get on the app and, if available, upgrade to the first deck, he said. Or if youre sitting in the sun and its a really hot day, you can upgrade to the shade.
Before Friday nights game against the Seattle Mariners was postponed due to a wet field, the As had planned to offer app-toting fans a special #NerdPower T-shirt commemorating a Twitter campaign that almost earned infielder Eric Sogard the title of Face of MLB.Younger fan base
The As also like the iBeacon technology because the teams fan base is getting younger and often uses Apple products, Smith said.
Baseball is trying to boost innovation at all 30 ballparks, and iBeacon is already in 20 parks, said Major League Baseball spokesman Matthew Gould.
When you look to the future of this, theres really cool things were working with the clubs on and well be rolling out through the course of the season, he said.
One possibility is a photo or video montage tied to historic locations inside in a stadium.
For example, at Citi Field in New York last season, baseball tested an iBeacon transmitter placed near the old home run apple from Shea Stadium, prompting the app to show a short video history of the apple.
Ballparks have dozens of points of interest, Gould said. You can create content experiences around them.
Baseball stadiums could be a proving ground for the technology, which is a powerful way to provide proximity based information and advertising, said analyst Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies of San Jose.
We are in its early stages, but this technology has great potential to enhance a persons sports, shopping and even learning experiences, he said in an e-mail. Museums will use them to send info from an exhibit to a persons smartphone or tablet. This is a very important technology that has great potential.Analyzing plays
At three parks - Citi Field, Miller Park in Milwaukee and Target Field in Minneapolis - baseball is testing a system that can generate data about how well an outfielder runs down a flyball or how efficiently a runner rounds the bases.
In one test last season, the system analyzed a diving catch by Atlanta Braves outfielder Jason Heyward. Heyward accelerated at 15.1 feet per second and reached a top speed of 18.5 mph as he ran 80.9 feet to catch the last out of the game.
The batter, Justin Turner of the Mets, hit the ball at a 24.1-degree angle for a distance of 314 feet, but it had a four-second hang time.
That type of data could help players and coaches, but would also interest fans who embrace the latest in baseball statistics like WAR, wins above replacement.
Baseball has offered pitch-tracking data since 2006, but this was a demonstration of whats going to be the first reliable measurement of everything thats happening on the field, Gould said.Minor-league usage
Not all of the new technology is surfacing at the big-league level. The San Jose Giants, San Franciscos Class A minor-league team, is introducing a PayPal system that lets fans order and pay for food from their seats using a mobile phone app.
The fans could then go to a special PayPal pickup line to avoid longer concession stand lines.
The PayPal app will work only at stands selling frozen yogurt or cheesesteaks at the Thursday home opener at Municipal Stadium, but could expand to other concessions later this season, said Brad Brodigan, a PayPal vice president and general manager.
PayPal has also demonstrated the system at concerts and at a rugby match in Australia.
We love fun events and activities like this because it demonstrates these new technologies in a fun way, he said.
Benny Evangelista is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: email@example.com