Pro sports teams embrace HDTV, but are unsure about wireless

Among professional sports leagues, high definition video is a permanent fixture, both inside the new stadiums where fans congregate and on HDTVs that fans are watching. But there's confusion there today, it seems, over wireless technologies.

NEW YORK CITY (BetaNews) - Although big league sports stadiums are now standardizing virtually unanimously on high definition TV for use in both internal and external broadcasts, wireless technologies are still so fleeting that teams aren't quite certain yet which ones to support, said executives of the New York Jets, Dallas Cowboys, and New York Giants NFL franchises, and the Orlando Magic NBA team.

When it comes to HDTV, football tends to be out in front of both basketball and baseball, the officials suggested, during presentations at this week's SVG (Sports Video Gameplan) League Summit in New York City.

In one indication that football is leading the HDTV charge, Scott Nardelli, director of fiber optic solutions for systems integrator Bextel, talked about an "HDTV instant replay" deployment that he coordinated this past summer for 28 pro teams at the request of National Football League management.

Calling for the implementation of "optical media from the playing field to the replay booth and back again," the HD application had to be quickly implemented between June and August, in time for the start of summer pre-season games.

Although they hunted far and wide among HD technology providers, Bextel and the NFL ultimately settled on a pre-built solution from Harris to beam replays in high def to the growing numbers of fans with HDTV sets in their homes.

Meanwhile, the Cowboys, Jets, and Giants are all building new stadiums that will include HDTV-enabling fiber optic infrastructures from start to finish.

The Cowboys have also started putting in HDTV "ribbon bands" next to their upcoming new field, said Jack Hill, construction manager for the new Cowboys stadium, talking to the crowd in Manhattan over a video link from Texas.

The Cowboys' new venue also likely, too, to be dotted with hundreds of LED flat panel displays throughout the stadium -- and perhaps in the parking lot, as well, where either flat panels or kiosks might be used to deliver statistics and replays to fans during their pre-game tailgate parties.

Speaking directly from the show in Manhattan, Robert D. Jordan, the Jets' VP of design and construction, said that, in addition to fiber and HDTV, the Jets will deploy multiple meshes of wireless technologies.

Prices are coming down so fast on fiberoptic cabling that fiber is now more cost-effective than the cable wiring used to support old-fashioned SDTV, maintained Nardelli.

In addition, he said, the fiber provides a lot of other technology benefits over copper. In the HDTV implementation, for example, remote field technicians can now rapidly download software updates.

Baseball, though, hasn't been nearly as quick to catch on to the latest technologies, acknowledged Chris Williams, VP at WJHW, a project management consultancy that has worked on the construction of new stadiums with several baseball teams.

"Unbelievably, one of them will be building a new stadium that uses SDTV," according to Williams.

Williams blamed the relative reluctance of some baseball teams to hop aboard the new technology train on the traditionally contentious relationship between baseball club owners and the broadcast media, a problem which he thinks is practically non-existent in football.

"I'm here mainly to listen to others, and to learn," said Rick Price, productions/operations manager for the Orlando Magic, a basketball team which is just announcing intentions to build a new stadium this week.

Price also noted, however, that the Magic's new stadium will use wireless cameras.

In answer to a question raised by BetaNews during the presentation, Jordan said that the Jets plan to use wireless technologies for supporting both back-end stadium operations -- such as ticket sales and food preparation -- and communications with fans on the building and grounds.

Speaking with BetaNews later, Jordan explained that the Jets will probably settle on one wireless technology from each of these three groups: Wi-Fi, cellular, and metropolitan area network (MAN) technology such as WiMAX.

But, he observed, it's hard to tell at this point which specific wireless technologies will be receiving the best industry support by 2010, the date when the Jets' new stadium is scheduled to open.

Other speakers, too, pointed to the difficulties involved in dovetailing quickly evolving new technologies with sports stadiums, a costly type of brick-and-mortar facility which has been traditionally built to last.

The Magic's current stadium, for example, was constructed in 1988, making it not yet 20 years old. "But it's totally outmoded now," Price told the audience in New York.

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