MLBAM, Level 3 powering faster ballpark Wi-Fi

Greg Jeckstadt of Highland, Ill., has been going to Cardinals home games since he was 5, recalling their "Whiteyball" era of the 1980s -- when there was no Internet and you watched Ozzie Smith, Willie McGee, Tommy Herr and the Redbirds in person or listened to Jack Buck's play by play (maybe both) with a transistor radio.

"We are huge fans of baseball and the Cardinals, so when we are at the game, we love to check stats and update friends on Facebook," Jeckstadt said in an email to MLB.com. "The new Wi-Fi upgrade at Busch Stadium is impressive. It is easy to access, super fast and reliable. It has made my family's gameday experience even better."

Tom Marx was a longtime attendee of Mariners games at Safeco Field before retiring and moving from Seattle to the Pittsburgh area three years ago. Now he is a regular at PNC Park, watching Andrew McCutchen, Gerrit Cole, Josh Harrison and his Pirates while enjoying easy connectivity and fast speeds on his Galaxy 8 Android despite big crowds.

"I try to go to every Pirates homestand, and I've definitely noticed a difference in speed and quality this year over previous years when it comes to using my apps and the Internet while in the stadium," Marx said. "An improved Internet and Wi-Fi experience makes attending games at the beautiful PNC Park much more enjoyable and relaxing. It is now the best park in MLB."

These are just two of the fans who can attest to how much better life is at Busch Stadium and PNC Park these days, as Major League Baseball Advanced Media and technology partner Level 3 Communications have worked to upgrade the fans' digital experience beyond previous recognition.

Throughout MLB, the digital ballpark life has been ramped up so that many of us simply take for granted the capability to use a mobile device to share those Instagram pics from our seats (without the "Failed" responses of old), to check in and maybe upgrade seats with the MLB.com Ballpark app, to keep up with league-wide action via the MLB.com At Bat app, to text our friends during at-bats, to stream highlights and more.

"Our fans' voracious digital appetite has led us to build high-density Wi-Fi in many venues, including Busch Stadium and PNC Park," said Kushal Patel, MLBAM's vice president, ballpark wi-fi. "We've been using Level 3 to provide Iternet access in ballparks where we're supplying Wi-Fi access to all the fans, press and back-of-house operations.

"Level 3 has been one of the smoothest providers I've worked with when setting up the circuits initially, and also when changes are needed to the service. Reliability of the service has also been impeccable with availability and the performance of the service."

A Major League Baseball game is really a two-screen experience for many, the first "screen" being the real-life, real-smell sensory wonder around you and the second being the digital domain in your hand. Level 3 is a global telecommunications company with a comprehensive portfolio of data, security, video, voice and unified communications solutions, and it is the provider for the dedicated Internet access service.

"Using our extensive global network, Level 3 is proud to collaborate with MLBAM to provide a more immersive and captivating gameday experience," said Laurinda Pang, Level 3's regional president, North America and Asia Pacific. "Now fans can go online to look up information about their favorite players, document their experience with friends and engage with other fans -- all at the speed and quality they've come to expect."

Think of that crucial service as the highway that enables the cars to drive anywhere they want. Level 3 and MLBAM built a network directly into venues like Busch Stadium and PNC Park, offloading the strain on wireless network access providers. With this underlying system, a fan who watches a game in Pittsburgh can drive the next day to Nationals Park and enjoy the same seamless digital experience while enjoying a major sporting event.

"MLB is depending on us to provide a flawless Internet experience, because it is that brand that's fronting that experience for the consumer," said Jacqueline Donaldson, client executive for MLB with Level 3. "So it's really important for Level 3 and MLB that it is perfect."

Donaldson cited a recent example that really brought home the true impact of today's ballpark tech for fans. She was at the All-Star Game presented by Mastercard in July at Marlins Park, along with her 8-year-old son. Washington's Bryce Harper was walking into the batter's box for the National League, as her son showed her the iPad that he was using in his seat.

"He said, 'Mom, you've got to see this play that [Harper] made just last week,' because he was coming up to bat," Donaldson said. "He was showing me the video. I said, 'You're not going to be able to stream that.' I have to tell you, it was so fast, and here he is, watching the play by this player the week before, and at the same time, we're watching this player's at-bat. The light bulb went off for me, and it was like, 'This is why it's so important.'

"It improves your consumption of the game so much. Quite frankly, I think you get into it more. You have individual tools to communicate with people and dive into the stats. The entire experience is augmented. Baseball isn't just about going to the game anymore; there's an entire generation and the Commissioner has understood this from the beginning, that there is a different way to reach the younger generation.

"Fans want to experience everything in a different way. They want to buy a ticket over the Internet, show up with that ticket on their mobile phone, walk into that gate of venue and automatically connect to their Wi-Fi, taking pics and uploading to Facebook, download stats of their players while watching them on the field. They want to look at that at-bat and feel the whole experience of what they are seeing live. You really have to have a robust experience for this generation, and Level 3 has helped MLBAM provide that."

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com and a baseball writer since 1990. Follow him @Marathoner and read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com/blogs. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.