The future is now for technology at Penguins' new arena

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The Penguins are looking to give fans the most byte for their buck when they move into their new arena in 2010.

From text messaging to on-demand televised replays, the Penguins not only want the building to showcase the team but cutting-edge technology as well.

They have called on the Pittsburgh Technology Council and the 1,400 companies that are members to find the most innovative technologies, services and materials to incorporate into the arena's development and to "future-proof" the building so that it always stays a step ahead.

"There are so many great resources in town and we already have a great relationship with them. So why not take advantage of that and see what we can come up with mutually?" Penguins spokesman Tom McMillan said yesterday.

The Penguins hope to explore a variety of innovations as part of the initiative, starting with text messaging, which already is a key component of the team's marketing efforts.

Dave Soltesz, the club's vice president of sales and marketing, said officials are looking to take that to "the next level."

Currently, the team has some 20,000 text message subscribers who receive information, special offers and updates on the availability of tickets. Mr. Soltesz said it has proven to be a "very, very powerful way to communicate" with younger fans, with results far better than direct mail campaigns.

The Penguins also want to explore ways to integrate video technology throughout the building, including the potential use of on-demand televised replays and touch-screen food menus in luxury suites.

Mr. Soltesz said there also might be ways to target specific advertising or marketing to different sections of the building. For example, there might be promotions for upcoming events on concourse monitors, while those in the suites advertise something else.

Another idea is the possible use of interactive seat finders and maps in the new arena. The Penguins also want to explore ways to more effectively communicate with fans who have disabilities.

They are looking at the potential for video gaming in the arena, perhaps by creating stations throughout the building and in suites. Other areas of interest include electronic ticketing and computerized and integrated lighting and sound systems.

Mr. Soltesz said the Penguins need to incorporate the best and most innovative technology into the building and their overall business plan because many of their fans are younger and computer- and tech-savvy.

"We have to keep at the edge of that. If we don't keep at the edge of that, they're going to look for other opportunities," he said. "We have an obligation to be on the cutting edge, based on what our fan base is."

The Penguins and the Pittsburgh Technology Council kicked off the initiative last month when the team discussed the types of innovations it was looking for as part of a Web-cast.

More than 400 companies viewed the presentation, and about 70 submitted 200-word descriptions detailing ways their company could provide the kind of technology the team wanted.

Penguins officials will spend the next two weeks interviewing representatives from each of the companies and then determine which, if any, of the innovations they would like to pursue through arrangements with one or more of the firms.

Among the companies that responded were Advanticom, Black Box, Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center, Datavibes Inc., IBM, Intellibot Robotics, Lunametrics, Rodata and Schell Games.

Kevin Lane, Pittsburgh Technology Council spokesman, said the Penguins' request is the first of its type. Usually a builder knows what he wants and sends out a proposal to suppliers seeking bids, he said.

"Here you have a different situation where the Penguins are interested in future-proofing their facility, making it as cutting edge as possible and they don't know how to do that," he said. "They asked us to kind of be the broker to illustrate to them what is cutting edge."

"We give their members a canvas to paint on, so to speak," Mr. McMillan added.

The Penguins aren't the first team to look for better ways to use ever-advancing technology.

At basketball games in San Antonio, the Spurs are using wireless technology to show a welcoming video clip featuring guard Tony Parker. They also are developing ways to send coupons to fans during games. And they are trying to create a wireless message to send at game's end to remind fans where they parked their cars.

At Seattle Mariners baseball games and University of Colorado football games, fans can use their cell phones to order food and drinks from concession stands.

For the Penguins' new arena, concessionaire Aramark likewise has been exploring technology that would allow fans to use their game ticket to buy food, drinks and merchandise.

Through a partnership with Cisco Systems, the Oakland Athletics are looking to build the "world's most technologically advanced" baseball stadium in the Bay Area, one that perhaps will allow fans to view seats and purchase tickets from their cell phones.


Mark Belko can be reached at mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.


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