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Photo via Chase.
Photo via Chase.

A dual-purpose technology device is helping fans at the U.S. Open stream live matches while keeping their devices charged as they watch tennis in New York City for the next two weeks.

The “FanVision Bolt” devices, which you can see to the right, double as a battery charger and internet hotspot of sorts that let fans stream live matches to their smartphone.

Along with providing a charge, the device also acts as a receiver that uses a private network to ingest live streams of select matches going on at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Fans access the stream via the U.S. Open mobile app — they can only watch the live feed on their smartphone or tablet if they are physically at the tennis center and have the FanVision Bolt device attached.

The idea is to let people watch streams of other matches without using up cellular data, on a connection that is perhaps more reliable than the in-stadium WiFi.

FanVision is available to NASCAR fans.
FanVision is available to fans at NASCAR races.

New York-based FanVision Entertainment created the device — “it solves the problems of wireless connectivity and mobile device charging in stadiums,” according to the company’s website. The company provides an SDK to app developers so they can take advantage of FanVision’s technology without forcing fans to download another app.

This is the first time U.S. Open attendees have been able to use the Chase-sponsored devices, which are available to the first 5,000 fans who visit the Chase booth.

FanVision has been making a name for itself at NASCAR races, as the company offers both the FanVision Bolt and its more heavy-duty FanVision Controller (which is its own device and does not require a smartphone) to fans who can use the products to track drivers, listen to team communications, watch in-car camera feeds, and check leaderboards during a race. NASCAR race teams also use FanVision’s software to track drivers in real-time.

I’m not sure how much I would use the live streaming function, given that I paid money to watch a live sporting event in person — not to stare at a device the entire time.

However, this type of technology is helpful for fans attending live professional sports like auto racing, tennis, and golf — FanVision is a partner of the PGA Tour — because there tends to be a lot going on at one time over a large area. If you’re on one hole at a golf tournament, for example, and want to see what’s going on with another player who is hundreds of yards away, this device can do that for you.

The external battery feature is also clutch. FanVision told Beyond The Flag earlier this year that smartphone batteries drain faster at sporting events because the devices are constantly searching for a signal. For fans, alleviating battery anxiety can be a big deal, particuarly as people seem to be using their smartphones more and more at games.

It’s these types of technology integrations that will be key for teams and leagues as they try to sell tickets during a time when high-definition televisions, social media, and much more are making the living room and bar a more attractive option than actually paying for admission, fighting traffic, and attending games.

This idea is actually not new, as FanVision — co-owned by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross — worked with about a dozen NFL teams six years ago to sell similar devices to fans at games. But those devices are nowhere to be found today at NFL stadiums — technology has certainly changed since then as a majority of folks attending games now own powerful smartphones with access to free team apps.

It’s funny to read this Forbes piece from 2010 about FanVision and the NFL, given that much of the functionality referenced — social media, ordering from your seat — is now done via your smartphone:

But Ross claims that an app is still years away from taking shape — stadiums are too saturated for mobile systems to stream effectively. For now, he’s excited about getting FanVision noticed by fans, and eventually he plans to add social media features — text messaging, and virtual games that will run parallel to the live game — and the ability for fans to order food to be delivered from concession stands to their seats.

“It’ll become an addiction, like the blackberry — or, crackberry,” Ross says, hopeful. “Fans won’t want to go to games without it.”

Even before that, the Seattle Mariners in 2007 offered fans who brought their handheld Nintendo DS devices to the game — the team was previously owned by Nintendo — access to the “Nintendo Fan Network,” which provided a live stream of the game, real-time scores and stats, networked games that you could play against other fans in the stadium, and the ability to order food from your seat (yes, this was possible nearly a decade ago, even though it still seems novel today).

The software let fans “even watch a terribly pixelated version of the game they’re currently at without handing over one red cent,” Engadget reported. How times have changed.

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