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In the past year, Dodger Stadium has been used as a presidential polling site, cooling center, a massive COVID testing site and as one of the country's largest vaccination sites.
Now, it will finally be open Friday for its intended purpose. For the first time since 2019, fans will be welcomed through the stadium's turnstiles, though capacity is limited to around 15,000 people.
Those lucky enough to be in attendance will not only get to see the boys in blue in the flesh for the first time since they won the World Series last year, but they will also get to experience a stadium significantly updated for the digital era.
The improvements include a revamped $100 million centerfield plaza featuring food, entertainment and play areas for kids and a host of less-visible tech upgrades, including blazing-fast 5G wireless connectivity and an improved point-of-sale system allowing fans to order food and drinks without having to wait in line.
The enhancements were originally scheduled to coincide with the Dodgers hosting the 2020 All-Star game, which they have now been awarded for 2022.
Anyone who has ever tried to text or browse Instagram during a game – Dodger Stadium has the distinction of being one of the most Instagrammed places on Earth – will appreciate the wireless updates. The team installed over 1,000 5G access points and will be the first MLB team to feature next-generation Wi-Fi 6.
The team also installed new point-of-sale cloud software from Appetize, a Los Angeles startup founded in 2011 that went through the 2016 Dodgers accelerator, and is already used at Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park.
"The three of us co-founders are our massive Dodgers fans, and to have the Dodgers, to us, is that trifecta of having the three biggest brands in baseball," said Kevin Anderson, Appetize's co-founder and chief strategy officer.
As part of the switch to Appetize, the stadium hawkers who roam the aisles of Dodger Stadium selling cotton candy and peanuts will now carry handheld devices, which means the days of handing crumpled up bills down your row and hoping you get handed back change are over. All the hawkers will now accept credit cards.
The new system will also allow fans to use Postmates to preorder stadium food so they do not have to wait in line for Dodger Dogs, expanding a program the team piloted last year in the upper decks.
"Postmates is a big deal because every venue has always tried to do mobile ordering but I've never heard of it being successful," said Esquibel.
For baseball purists or even more casual fans, the idea of people spending more time staring at their phones rather than being engaged in the game may not sound so appealing. A growing number of concerts and comedy shows have banned smartphones. There is also a much more serious problem of fans distracted by phones getting seriously injured after being hit by foul balls. But MLB — whose average fan is 53 years old — wants to stay relevant and appeal to a younger audience.
"I feel the romance of Dodger Stadium," said Esquibel, who grew up near the ballpark. "There is a lot of history, but at the same time we want to evolve and keep up with technology."
Esquibel also believes that, far from taking fans out of the game, technology will bring them closer to it because they can track advanced analytics and play fantasy on their smartphones. The next logical step: Fans will someday be able to make in-game bets, as is already commonplace in the U.K. and Europe.
"It could be very exciting," said Esquibel. "Wagering is coming."
Already MLB has been encouraging fans to bet on games and plays to win contests that offer cash prizes, though the league is careful to point out it does not yet allow actual betting.
In order to prevent fans from congregating, some of the new areas will initially be shut off to fans, but the Dodgers hope that will be short lived and their refreshed stadium can soon operate in its full glory.
"The fans that will be coming here on Friday will be able to walk through here and get to their seats, but most of the areas will still be closed off to fans," Dodgers President Stan Kasten told members of the media this week. "We're hoping some time between May 1 and June 15, according to the governor, we should be open 100%. That's the day we're all looking for."
A version of this story originally ran July 23rd and was updated April 9th.
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