Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Retweet: 49ers chief executive talks to the Mercury News about the team's software-driven new home

Mike Rosenberg of the San Jose Mercury News posted today part three of his interview with the CEO of the San Francisco 49ers, Jed York. The interviews center on the new stadium the NFL team will get in 2014.

For those not familiar with the Bay Area sports scene, the 49ers play at old Candlestick Park (or whatever they are calling it today). It was built in 1960 to be the home field of the Giants, who had moved to San Francisco in 1958. From day one there were issues with the stadium such as the land deal and no-bid contract awarded. Its location was also a problem: Candlestick Point is south of the City, located a spot where the cold fog is guaranteed to gather late in the afternoon and early evening. Going to a game at the stadium required a jacket, and maybe even a blanket, even in the summer.

It was built at a time when baseball was getting its "modern" stadiums, a phase that all baseball fans are glad is over.

The 49ers did not move to Candlestick until 1971, playing for years at Kezar Stadium, located at the southeastern corner of Golden Gate Park. The stadium was demolished and rebuilt as a smaller venue that is in use to this day.

The new Santa Clara Stadium
For the 49ers, Candlestick worked out slightly better for them than the Giants. While the weather can be cold in the summer at the 'Stick, it is usually quite nice in the fall. This is caused by the cooler weather not drawing in fog the way the hot interior of California does in the summer. Many outsiders get terribly confused by Bay Area weather because of this. But rainy season comes earlier in Northern California and Candlestick, being somewhat under sea level, used to become a mud bath before the drainage was improved.

The team, having won five Super Bowls, and having such a loyal fan base, deserved a better home for the team. But the Bay Area, where I lived for years, is unlike, say, Detroit (where I grew up). Detroit and its surrounding communities seem to build their teams new homes every few years. But AT&T Park, the new, gorgeous home of the Giants, was built using the teams's money – in other words, the Giants have a mortgage. So getting a new park in San Francisco prove impossible. So on to Santa Clara for the 49ers.

What struck me about the interview with Jed York were the two questions involving the technology inside the stadium. Here is the segment:
We have high standards for technology here -- what can people expect?
It's not putting something in there that's a hardware-driven stadium; you want to make sure it's a software-driven stadium. Smart phones in two years are going to be different than what they are today, the same with tablets. I'm not going to limit what HP, Apple, Google create. I just want to make sure that the experience is enhanced and you can use those devices to the fullest capability and beyond.

What will get your jaw to drop when you walk in?
Not one big thing, it will be how everything works together. It will be a ticket-less, cashless building, a building that is smarter than anything else that has been there. You have a home entertainment experience now and some people think it's better than actually being at the game. We want to make sure your experience at the stadium is better than anywhere, you can't possibly have a better experience. That's what's going to capture people's imaginations when you walk in, when you have your smart phones or tablets, they will work the way they do at work and home. You're going to connect with the game in a way people were not able to connect ever before. Sustainable needs to be for practicable purposes, not for show purposes — the simplicity of the design and how it works together.
York's thinking is pretty interesting here, and sounds more than a bit like Steve Jobs.

Apple under Jobs talked about hardware specs but only in so far as a way of making software work. At the iPhone introduction in 2007 Jobs quoted Alan Kay as saying "People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware." That quote is still the key to the smartphone industry today and why so many tech sites still don't have a good understanding about the smartphone market.

So what York might really be saying here is that the new stadium will not built in such a fashion that it locks in technology, that it will be more open to the changes that are surely coming in time. Again, like that Jobs keynote where he points to the then current smartphone in the market and observed that they all came with keyboards, "fixed in plastic" he said, that could not adjust to changes desired by new programs – hence the multitouch display.

On the website of the new stadium there is a small section about technology. Here it is:
Through partnerships with local, national, and international technology providers, the stadium will be a showcase for innovation in Silicon Valley. Featuring stadium-wide WiFi capability, mobile connectivity, IPTV, and colossal HD video boards measuring over 13,000 square feet, no one will miss a minute of the action!
That sounds good, but it opens up many more possibilities if you let it.

For instance, giant TV screens is pretty last century, isn't it? I mean, having them around is nice, but I want to see the last play, why don't you stream it to me? Give me a close up of that catch, let me access it through the stadium's WiFi system. There are tremendous possibilities, aren't there?

Heck, I could really use a beer, have a couple waiting for me at the concessions stand after I've ordered them through my smartphone.