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Cisco Pitching High-Tech Ballpark to MLB's Oakland A's

If Cisco Systems Inc. (CSCO) has its way, the Oakland Athletics' new ballpark in Fremont will be the stadium of the future.

Fans will swipe electronic tickets stored on cell phones. Bleacher bums will view instant replays at their seats with laptop computers. And digital advertising displays will be able to switch images based on the buying habits of the people walking by through data embedded in their cell phones.

That was the vision that A's owner Lew Wolff laid out to Fremont City Council members this week in a pitch for Cisco Field, a planned ballpark featuring the company's technology, Fremont Mayor Bob Wasserman said Thursday.

"It's fabulous — the technology is something else," Wasserman said. "It went over my head. It only takes about 10 seconds to go beyond me when you're talking about technology. I can't say I understand it all, but it's going to be quite a ballpark."

Wolff's pitch came just weeks after Cisco CEO John Chambers delivered a less-than-subtle presentation at Oracle OpenWorld about the advances that could be possible at a new ballpark in the San Francisco Bay area.

Chambers led a lively presentation last month demonstrating how Cisco technology and intelligent networks would enable fans at the hypothetical stadium to buy and upgrade tickets through smart cell phones, access real-time scorecards at their seats and buy pictures of themselves from crowd cameras and pay to show them on the Jumbotron.

The A's were the hypothetical team featured in all of the video and images in the demonstration.

Cisco and the A's both have declined to comment about the reported agreement, which would create a 32,000- to 35,000-seat ballpark surrounded by homes and shops on a 143-acre parcel currently held by Cisco.

Wasserman said a news conference is scheduled for Tuesday at the San Jose headquarters of Cisco, the world's largest networking equipment maker, to announce the partnership.

Wireless access is becoming an increasingly common feature at ballparks, but analysts said a park built with the reported features would be a big step forward.

However, while the ballpark could be the ultimate consumer showcase for a company that derives most of its sales from corporate customers, the strategy also could backfire if the entire system doesn't work properly or fans don't warm to the idea, said Sam Wilson, a communications equipment analyst with JMP Securities.

"These things work both ways," he said. "If everything works flawlessly, it's a great showcase. But if everything doesn't work flawlessly, it's the exact opposite. It's a laughingstock."

Cisco, which makes the routers, switches and other devices used to link networks and direct traffic on the Internet, is trying to shed its image as solely a maker of networking infrastructure gear.

The company also hopes to capitalize on products and services that utilize the network.

One example is TelePresence, a technology similar to video conferencing that Cisco introduced last month that aims to deliver a three-dimensional feeling that the participants are all in the same room.

Earlier this year, Wolff confirmed that the A's, who share the Oakland Coliseum with the NFL's Oakland Raiders, were exploring a move to Fremont, about 25 miles south of Oakland on the east side of San Francisco Bay.

Wasserman said talks between the city and the A's are still at an early stage, and that the earliest the A's could begin playing there is 2011.