What’s wrong with this picture: it’s summertime, a humid, sunny Saturday afternoon. Father and son, Mother, daughter, the family, they all pack themselves in the car to fight traffic and parking headaches to go to that venerable of institutions – a professional baseball game. There, the Red Sox are beating the Yankees at Fenway, the fans singing Sweet Caroline. Seats vibrate from the collective noise. The Jumbotron scoreboard announces a birthday. The scent of roasted peanuts fills the air. The crowd does a giant wave. A fly ball goes just foul. Vendors chuck hot dogs and crackerjacks. Cheering kids have their gloves at the ready to catch a foul ball. And you, you’ve brought a video game console?
Video game console? Huh? I don’t remember that in the lyrics to "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." It’s sure not part of the father-son baseball outings I remember.
What it is, however, is a story about the kind of inventive product repurposing that professional product marketers dream about and just such a thing is going on.
Up in Washington, in Mariner country at Safeco field, Nintendo of America is running an experiment with its best selling portable console, the DS Lite. For a small fee ( $5 per game or $30 per 10), fans can connect to one of a few download kiosk stations in the stadium. There, a small program is uploaded that enables DS toting customers to use their game players to order food, watch the TV feed of the game (including instant replays) or even play interactive trivia games.
From the relative comfort of my seat, DS Lite in hand, I can order up some nachos. From the limited view of my nose-bleed seats, I can see a close up where the ball doesn’t look like it’s half the size of a golf ball. Maybe it’s not such a crazy concept after all.
Nintendo’s experiment is not the first time a consumer device has found a new home (or at least a temporary one) with Major League Baseball. Apple’s video iPod has been put into use by many professional teams as a means of giving players an easy way to review video footage and scouting reports. Unlike that example however, the Nintendo experiment gives the device an entirely new function from what it was designed for (the video iPod was, at least, designed to view videos regardless of whether they be entertainment or professional in context.)
Nintendo has moved in a measured fashion in developing the project. Like with their consoles they seem focused on making the user-experience a priority and taking the time to get it right. The idea for the DS Baseball Project which is called the “Nintendo Fan Network” was reportedly presented in 2005. A year was spent negotiating terms with Major League Baseball before this season’s launch. Nintendo has been similarly light-handed promoting the project, allowing it to fly almost entirely below the radar. (There has been no major PR push and the story has only recent begun to find life in the national news media).
If fans are responsive other stadiums around the country may follow, and along with them, more features may be added as well.
If the Fan Network catches on similar features could be offered for Wifi enabled cell phones too. Order a hot dog in San Francisco and watch a replay of Bonds swinging for the homerun record on an iPhone? Not an impossible idea. In fact, not a bad idea at all.