SEATTLE – Ballpark essentials: hot dogs, peanuts, a well-worn glove and ... Nintendo's portable gaming device? The Redmond, Wash.-based company is making a pitch to turn its portable DS Lite into a baseball staple, bringing interactive technology to fans through a pilot program being tested this season at the Mariners' Safeco Field.
"It's been a work in progress. Once we created the technology of the DS, we started looking at other applications to use its wireless features," said Nintendo corporate affairs manager J.C. Smith. "The program system became so popular ... so we sought other ways to make this a fun system for people to have."
The program is still in the beginning stages, but Smith said the idea is being embraced by Major League Baseball and fans as another way to make attending a game more interactive. Nintendo declined to provide numbers on how many users are purchasing software for the program — at $5 a pop for one game or $30 for 10 games.
Ideas for the program were first presented to the Nintendo-owned Mariners in late 2005. With the team onboard, Nintendo spent the following year developing and testing the system and arranging a partnership with MLB.com to provide statistics and scores available.
The network was first unveiled at the Mariners' offseason fan gathering and debuted on opening day.
Both MLB and the Mariners deferred comment to Nintendo.
"For us it's really just the initial stage," Smith said. "We didn't want to push it hard until we were sure the services were working. We're now to that point where we're like, 'Let's push it out further.' It has been a process."
The program has been lightly promoted at Mariners home games. Two download stations are positioned on the main concourse of Safeco Field and occasional ads for the network play before games. But there is little other fanfare, and the system isn't even mentioned on the Mariners' Web site.
Sitting in right-center field on a Monday night, Smith showed off the functionality of the program. He ordered a hot dog and a couple of drinks from his seat. Ten minutes later, the meal was delivered with a tip already included in the order price. Smith also showed friends replays from the television feed that were unavailable in the stadium. While a little difficult to see on the tiny screen, the replays were welcomed for those who might not have seen a critical play.
The chance to see replays is what drew Colleen Barracca and her 13-year-old son James to spend the $5 for a one-time use of the network. Barracca thought the cost was a bit high, depending on how many games her family attended.
"We're going to be in a suite with nephews and cousins the same age and I thought that would be fun for them," Colleen Barracca said. "It does make it more interactive for them. I don't know if I would pay that price over and over."
Making the game more interactive has been tried in other stadiums with little success. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays and San Francisco Giants tried "smart seats" in premium areas, with fans able to order food and watch highlights. Both teams eventually removed those seats due to lack of use.
Cisco Systems Inc. has pitched advanced technology for the Oakland Athletics' new ballpark in Fremont, Calif. Their visions include fans swiping electronic tickets stored on cell phones; bleacher bums viewing instant replays at their seats with laptop computers; and digital advertising displays able to switch images based on the buying habits of the people walking by through data embedded in their cell phones.
Nintendo hopes to expand the network to other stadiums. Smith said the system could be upgraded regularly as the technology and programs continue to evolve. As long as fan reaction remains positive and the system works properly, Nintendo will move forward with the program.
"We're still in the initial stage to get a read on the system," Smith said. "It will improve if we roll it out broader."