Although the technology is still a long way from taking off, it is already changing how fans enjoy games at the baseball stadium in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province.
|KT Wiz fans cheer on their team July 31 during a match against the Hanwha Eagles. (Kim Young-won/The Korea Herald)|
The stadium is home to KT Wiz, run by KT Sports, a subsidiary of South Korean telecom firm KT. The team currently ranks sixth in the Korean Baseball Organization league.
“Media services for baseball are one of the few areas where mobile users can experience the advantages of 5G firsthand,” Hahn Woo-jae, a manager at KT Sports’ marketing team, explained July 31 a few hours before the match began between KT Wiz and the Hanwha Eagles. He led the project to build 5G solutions for the baseball stadium.
“From purchasing a ticket to food delivery, 5G technology is an integral part of KT Sports’ marketing schemes to attract baseball fans.”
In the control room of the stadium where Hahn and other KT Wiz employees work, information is displayed on six large screens: ticket sales, ticket repurchase rates, restaurant lists and accumulated sales, and recent marketing events. Air quality data, collected from sensors installed at the stadium, is also available. Mobile users can check KT Wiz’s 5G-powered mobile app to access the same data.
Air quality monitoring devices and air circulators are installed in nearly every section of the stadium, while water cannons and water-spraying drones are deployed when the fine dust reaches alarming levels. The water cannons are also used for fun, as spectators enjoy splashing around.
With other smaller screens in the control room, officials can monitor what is happening at each entrance to the stadium and dispatch guards when necessary.
Some KT Wiz employees, referred to as “Vic & ddory,” answer queries and handle complaints posted on the mobile app as well. Because of the heavy rain that continued through the afternoon, fans had left a number of posts on the app that day, asking if the game would be held as scheduled. The rain fortunately stopped before the match.
Using the 5G app to order must-eat food in the city, like fried dumplings and fried chicken, is a breeze -- just type in your seat number and your credit card number, choose the food you want, and your order arrives within minutes.
The 5G streaming service is a killer feature of the app, according to the KT Sports manager. Seven ultrahigh-definition cameras and 40 high-definition cameras installed around the field and near the seats allow app users to watch baseball games live with a 270-degree field of vision. Users can interactively choose the angle they prefer and can check statistics and other information including the pitch trajectory, the spin rate of a baseball and how long it took a pitcher to throw the ball. The so-called Motion Tracking function shows graphics depicting the batter’s swing and the movements of the baseball.
Contrary to the idea that mobile streaming might have a negative impact on ticket sales, the real-time broadcasting service helps baseball fans enjoy the sport in more diverse and immersive ways, according to Hahn.
“Since the first pitch takes place at around 6 p.m. -- the time when people usually leave their workplace -- they often miss the early innings,” said the KT Sports manager. “With 5G real-time broadcasting, they can watch the games on the way to the stadium without a break.”
Equipping the stadium with 5G service took just six months, thanks to the pilot 5G media service launched at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, according to KT.
Some sports team operators from other nations -- including Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten, which manages the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles -- have paid keen attention to KT’s 5G services for baseball, with some of their officials having visited the Suwon stadium to seek partnerships.
Other sports like football and basketball will likely embrace 5G technology in the coming years too, according to the telecom firm.
“The 5G-based services can play a key role in attracting the digital generation,” said Park Jin-woo, a manager from KT’s global media relations team.
The July 31 match ended with a 5-2 Eagles win. Despite the disappointing results, there was a lot of excitement throughout the match, probably because of the 5G-based entertainment and media services available at the venue.
By Kim Young-won (firstname.lastname@example.org)