SEATTLE – Inside the suites of Safeco Field are the typical, palatial amenities that come with a premium experience at a ballpark: private entries, leather seats, a food spread with numerous culinary options and drinks galore. They've become standard features across the industry.
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So how does Safeco Field now stand out?
A new feature was added at the beginning of the 2017 baseball season and has now been incorporated to each of the ballpark's 59 suites. And all that's needed is the ability to speak clearly to a 9-inch tall audio device in each suite.
"Hey Alexa, can you order me a beer?"
The Mariners and hometown neighbor Amazon have partnered to put the Alexa voice-activated operating system in every suite at Safeco Field. It's the first partnership of its kind in professional sports and likely won't be the last as franchises continue to look for a way to engage fans, getting them off the couch away from their high-definition televisions and into the stadium.
For now, this is a premium offering in Seattle, but the expansion opportunities to upgrade the entire fan experience using this technology seem boundless.
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"It's something that we're really excited to see how everybody is going to respond to this because we could take an iterative approach," said Zach Parker, head of business development for Amazon's Alexa Smart Home division. "So you might learn that people don't order food as much as they order drinks, or something like that and working with these guys tweak the experience based on the stuff they want to deliver for their guests."
Buy me some peanuts and crackerjacks is now a lot simpler than screaming through the crowd at the vendor walking the aisles or waiting in line for concessions, at least for those that have paid for the premium experience of sitting in one of the Safeco Field suites. So is changing the television, requesting the suite's server to stop by or calling up game stats and lineups.
It's all done via the voice technology Amazon has created with Alexa. Working with a third-party developer, the Mariners have created a set of experiences accessed simply by asking.
"We talk a lot about fan experience, weekly meetings and it's something that we sweat," Mariners' vice president of information technology David Curry said. "There are a lot of opportunities to implement technology in public venues. I think everyone that has been doing this for a while has seen certain experiences that have made a huge different and others that even if they worked even if the technology delivered exactly what it was supposed to just the adoption wasn't there."
WHAT IT DOES
By giving a basic command line — "Hey Alexa, ask the Mariners ..." — the system is integrated into the room. Asking for the TV to be changed, requesting the server to stop by, or even playing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," is as simple as making the verbal request.
There are some special features that can be requested and are only accessible to suite holders in the ballpark and go beyond the typical amenities, including a high-above camera shot of home plate and one from behind the pitcher.
"It's about letting the technology sort of disappear in the room sort of where you don't need a bunch of devices and gadgets. You just talk to the things that are around you and then you build the things," Parker said.
WHAT IT LACKS
Most notably, the system is only able to be used in the indoor sections of the suites. The integration isn't there yet to where it can be used in the outdoor seating sections, limiting how extensive the system can be used. Fans there to watch the game must step away from the action to use the system. The features are also very basic for now: food ordering, changing features on the television and playing small trivia games.
There's also simply speaking and annunciating in a way that Alexa can understand what you are requesting. Sometimes it hears just fine; sometimes asking for the TV channel to change leads to a server being requested.
WHERE CAN IT GO
The integration of the experiences the Mariners have created to work with Alexa is in its infancy. Feedback is being gathered regularly by the patrons using the system to provide tweaks and eventually new and different services.
Amazon says that's why they believe the system is so useful in this venue. Each organization has the ability to update or change Alexa to fit what they need. It doesn't require a changing of equipment or installation of a new system to update. Just tweaks that can be made by the Mariners in-house team or a third-party developer.
Other teams are paying attention. The Mariners said a handful of other franchises have reached out to ask about the implementation of the program.
"We're really trying to improve (the suite) experience first before going out further," Mariners vice president of sales Frances Traisman said. "But the sky is the limit I would imagine."
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