- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Charles Parker wanted food, but did not want to leave his seat behind home plate at Prince George's Stadium on Sunday. So he pulled out his cell phone and ordered a hamburger. About five minutes later, a young man walked up to Mr. Parker, seated in section 104, and handed him his food. Mr. Parker didn't miss a single pitch during the Bowie Baysox game.
"It's a good concept. When you go to a game, it's all about relaxation. Anything they can do to make the game better so you're not getting out of your seat is good," said Mr. Parker, a 36-year-old Bowie resident.
The Bowie Baysox are testing a new wireless technology that allows fans to order food from its concession stand using their cell phones. Burgers, beer, hot dogs and other ballpark fare will be delivered to their seats, and no cash is needed because purchases are charged to credit cards.
Americans have been slow to embrace so-called mobile commerce, the use of cell phones and personal digital assistants to conduct electronic commerce, said Joe Laszlo, senior analyst at Jupiter Research. But they haven't had many opportunities to buy anything more than books, and they have had almost no opportunity to use cell phones to make credit-card purchases instead of using cash.
"People haven't heard enough about mobile commerce yet or heard enough about how to use it," Mr. Laszlo said.
The Baysox are one of just three professional sports teams to use the technology developed by Cellbucks Payments Network Inc., a small, privately held tech firm in Toronto.
"We decided to give it a shot and see what the fans think. I feel that the technology is moving swiftly enough and that one day there are going to be applications that let people use cell phones for all kinds of goods and services, not just talking," said Bowie Baysox General Manager Jon Danos.
The Baysox began using the wireless system at its Aug. 2 game, and the team will use Cellbucks through Aug. 29, the last game of the season. Mr. Danos considers the monthlong pilot project a tryout to see if Cellbucks is worth using next year. Minor league baseball teams in Buffalo, N.Y., and Charleston, S.C., also have started using Cellbucks within the last two weeks.
Fans register to use the system by calling a toll-free number listed on menus that ushers hand out. They must give credit-card information, their birth date to prevent beer sales to minors and an e-mail address. Orders are charged to the credit card provided and receipts are e-mailed.
Fans order food with a phone call. Numbers on the keypad correspond to menu items. Fans also punch in the section and seat they're in. A computer and hard drive in the back of a steamy concession stand at Prince George's Stadium logs orders from Mr. Parker and others. Only people in the 3,500 reserved seats at Prince George's Stadium can use Cellbucks. People in general-admission seats can't use the wireless technology because they aren't numbered. Concession-stand workers need to know exactly where to deliver food.
Whether Cellbucks returns to Bowie next year depends in large part on how often people use it this month. But few fans have used the system since the Baysox, Cellbucks and stadium vendor Ovations Food Service Inc. made it available. Last Saturday night's game was the first time the Cellbucks network logged more than one sale.
It's still not clear whether Cellbucks is a convenience that Baysox fans crave, Mr. Danos said.
"It's too early to say [whether it will catch on]. I mean, it doesn't take a long time to walk to the concession stand," he said.
But Cellbucks isn't just for people who don't want to miss a pitch, like Mr. Parker, or people who are unwilling to walk to a concession stand. People with children don't always want to shepherd a group of youngsters to a food stand, Cellbucks founder and Chief Executive Patrick Bird said. The wireless system also prevents people from having to use cash to pay for food.
Fans who want food delivered will have to pay for the convenience. Food and drinks cost about 15 percent more when ordered over a cell phone. A jumbo hot dog at Prince George's Stadium that costs $3.50 at the concession stand will cost $4 when purchased over the Cellbucks network.
"The cost doesn't seem to be a deterrent," said Mr. Bird, a native of South Africa. But the company declined to say how many people have registered to use the system.
Peanuts, pretzels and bottled water all are marked up 50 cents, too.
The increase is intended to pay the costs associated with the new system, Mr. Danos said. Cellbucks, the Baysox and Ovations Food Service are sharing the cost of the wireless system.
"We don't have a profit motive. Our motive is making it more convenient for our fans," he said.
Not only is food more costly on Cellbucks, wireless users have a limited menu to order from. Cellbucks and Baysox officials plan to add more items, but food sales are just the beginning, Mr. Bird said. Cellbucks hopes to add souvenir-shop items and tickets to future games to the list of what people can buy using their cell phones.
"Mobile commerce is definitely something that's coming," Mr. Bird said.
Slowly, though. Wireless-phone companies still are figuring out how people will use wireless services, and consumers still are becoming more comfortable with the technology, Mr. Laszlo said.
Mr. Bird has gotten around the carriers. Since consumers place orders using a toll-free number, Cellbucks doesn't rely on any one carrier. Consumers can use it no matter who they buy wireless-phone service from.
He still has to overcome consumer malaise. A survey last March by Jupiter Research indicated 37 percent of consumers had no interest in making mobile-commerce purchases, 35 percent didn't want to chew up cell-phone minutes to make e-commerce purchases and 33 percent worried about the security of credit-card information.

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