New Yankee Stadium wired by Cisco
Latest high-tech gear will enhance club's, fans' experience
NEW YORK -- No sooner did Hal Steinbrenner speak on Tuesday than his image flashed up on a high-definition television screen, revealing the Yankees' co-chairman in a dark suit and tie. Those in another room -- among them, members of the Cisco Systems team that helped make this happen -- heard Steinbrenner's voice jump out from the exact spot of his image. Steinbrenner wasn't in the room, but he might as well have been.
"This is a system that we've never seen before," Yankees chief operating officer Lonn Trost said.
In reality, the system, called "telepresence," is among the more impractical additions to the new Yankee Stadium -- the Bronx Bombers won't use it extensively right away. But it is among the most technologically advanced steps they've taken to date, and one of the keenest looks into the future for a team that is rapidly headed in that direction.
The Yankees on Tuesday officially announced their partnership with Cisco Systems, a technology company that has already provided $15-16 million of wiring infrastructure in the new Yankee Stadium. Such advances will be utilized in everything from in-game replays to concessions, providing what Cisco is billing as a new "fan experience."
"It really is about how the fan experience will change in the stadiums of the future," said Cisco chief executive officer John Chambers.
Every part of that experience, Cisco representatives claim, will revolve around video. The company will install roughly 1,100 flat-panel, high-definition video monitors in the new Yankee Stadium, giving fans access to capabilities ranging from interactive video replays to the ability to order concessions from their seats. After games, fans can look at traffic patterns and subway routes, and also receive information in case of an emergency.
When the stadium opens in April 2009, many of those features will only be available in luxury boxes -- though Cisco has installed enough infrastructure to potentially bring them to every seat in the stadium. That could come in the form of fans accessing features through their cell phones or even through individual seat monitors.
And in addition to the improved sight lines that the stadium's architecture will provide, fans can catch each game on high-definition televisions set up at concession stands, in the Yankees museum or even in bathrooms.
"The bottom line is that when you're in the stadium, you will always have an opportunity to watch the game," said Ron Ricci, co-chairman of Cisco's sports and entertainment sector.
Fans in luxury boxes will enjoy the use of touch-screen Internet protocol phones, which will allow them to order concessions and merchandise directly to their suites, and even potentially interact with players. Players, similarly, will have their lockers equipped with touch-screen computers.
"We're in the midst of constructing a new stadium," Trost said, "and constructing a new Yankee Stadium has a requisite for technology."
Perhaps the most curious advance is the telepresence, which will allow team executives to communicate far more efficiently with anyone from colleagues in Tampa, Fla., to partners in China. In the system demonstrated on Tuesday at the Cisco offices in Manhattan, three high-definition televisions and three corresponding cameras helped capture the images and voices of Steinbrenner, Trost and others, beaming them into a separate room. The system linked voices and sounds, making it seem as if the people on each end were sitting in the other room.
Cisco has already hosted about 150,000 meetings using the 250 telepresence screens already available, saving its current clients roughly $150-200 million in travel expenses.
And the Yankees don't plan on hoarding that technology for themselves. They will soon install telepresence equipment in a Bronx public library, school or hospital, allowing area children to communicate with the Yankees in charitable outreach programs.
"It amazes me, the half of it," Steinbrenner said. "Some of the technology, I didn't even know existed."
Yet it does exist, and it will continue to exist -- the Yankees stressed on Tuesday that Cisco has "future-proofed" their stadium, laying down enough infrastructure so that years down the line, the team can easily outfit the stadium with tomorrow's technology.
"I grew up watching Reggie [Jackson] and all the other Yankee greats play in the remodeled stadium," Ricci said. "And now I can look at you and confidently say that the quality of the technology experience in this new stadium, for the first time, I believe, will rival the quality of play on the field. It's truly extraordinary what the Yankees have done."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.