3Com Passes Wireless to Football Fans

Hoping to gain exposure for its wireless handheld device business, 3Com has announced that it will loan free Web appliances to fans at National Football League (NFL) games in San Francisco, California starting early next month.

3Com said it will begin handing out “Web pads” to stadium-goers starting September 10th, the day of the first home game for the San Francisco 49ers. The company said it is meeting with other teams about developing a league-wide network connecting stadiums around the country.

Members of the media and season ticket holders in the luxury sky boxes will be the first to get the devices, which will be about the size of a steno notebook. 3Com hopes to be able to give all 69,843 people who attend home games the option of using a device in the future.

Multi-Media Experience

In an interview with the E-Commerce Times, 3Com spokesman Brian Johnson pointed out that sports fans have long toted radios to follow the games more closely or check in on other sporting events. Furthermore, cell phone use at sports events is rampant.

“We’re hoping this one device can replace both of those,” he said.

Fans will be able to check out-of-town scores, get updated statistics and order from the stadium’s sky-box concession stands. Johnson added that plans are in the works to offer the devices at other events in the stadium.

While 3Com is downplaying the commercial value of the project and focusing on the enhancement of the game-day experience for fans, the move comes shortly after the firm hired MarchFIRST to help it develop strategies for delivering wireless solutions for e-businesses.

Spreading the Word

3Com’s plan is a smart play, Mainspring analyst Ken Ewell told the E-Commerce Times. One of the major stumbling blocks to wider use of hands-free Web appliances is the belief among users that the devices are difficult to use.

“Right now, with Web devices, it’s all about functionality and performance,” Ewell said. “Anything they can do to spread the word that their devices are easy to use and work pretty well will pay off in the long run because there is no doubt that mobility and access are going to become increasingly important.”

3Com’s spinoff of its Palm Pilot division created one of the hottest IPOs last year, and analysts believe that more Internet traffic will move to such wireless devices as cell phones and handheld personal digital assistants in coming years.

Peter Harris, president of the 49ers, noted that 3Com Park is located in the heart of high-tech hotbed Silicon Valley, making it a logical place for the wireless experiment. Johnson added that when 3Com bought the naming rights to the stadium in 1996, the company immediately began work on plans to wire the stadium for Internet access.

Stadiums Go High-Tech

3Com Park, formerly known as Candlestick Park, was the first sports venue to bear the imprint of a high-tech giant. Since, San Diego’s baseball and football venue was renamed Qualcomm Stadium after the wireless phone company.

The latest staduim is to get a high-tech name is the new $325 million football stadium being built for the New England Patriots. Massachusetts-based Internet incubator CMGI said on Wednesday that it won the name-rights bidding war for that venue.

The future home of the Patriots and the New England Revolution professional soccer team will be called “CMGI Field.”

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