Big Brother and Big Business: MLB Turns to iBeacon Technology

(Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports)
(Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports)

Major League baseball teams are tracking fan movements in 20 of its 30 parks this year.  Don’t get creeped out, this isn’t a Big Brother issue. Fans who download the At the Ballpark app, will be able to get discounts, upgrade their tickets, and even receive special deals from teams in-stadium.

The teams benefit as well. The iBeacon technology (or similar technology) has already been put to use by retailers. Beacon tracking technology uses a phone’s Bluetooth signal to track where customers are moving, stopping, or interacting with the environment. For retailers, it allows staff to change walking areas, move specific items to the front or back or the store, and help market items through store location.

Teams will benefit in much the same way. Jerseys aren’t selling in the location by the grandstand? Offer a quick discount between the second and fourth innings. Still not working? Let’s move the pop-up shop to the concourse behind home plate.

There will be struggles with the new technology. First, fans must download the app. Second, they must have their Bluetooth signal on. Third, privacy is always a concern.

A fan doesn’t have to have the app to be tracked, beacons pickup any device emitting Bluetooth signals.  This tracking data is important to the team, but if the fan hasn’t explicitly opted in, there could be public backlash.

Ultimately, the iBeacon will enable better fan engagement. The more personalized the application, the better the experience. Instead of missing a big at-bat, a fan can have their food and drink delivered to their seat. Better yet, it can be their regularly scheduled order. If a fan orders 2 hot dogs and a pretzel every third inning, the application can save the order without additional fan input.

The goal is to keep people coming to the ballpark. The greatest threat to attending live events  is the increase in technology (TV’s, tablets, etc.). Now teams are using technology to their advantage.

Michael Colangelo is Assistant Director at the USC Sports Business Institute. 


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