As a lifelong fan, Joel Banslaben has been to plenty of Mariners games. And all too often he and his friends longed to sit in what they thought were better seats. Little did they know that desire would spark an ingenious new app that could dramatically change the way fans decide where they want to sit.
"What we considered a better seat was to be sitting in the sun, drinking a cold beer, and to catch a foul ball," Banslaben says.
The foul ball. The holy grail of fans, a prized souvenir second only to catching a home run. And being the geeks that they are (baseball and technology, alike), Banslaben figured there had to be stats showing the best place to catch a ball.
"We looked around and found there are no stats on where a foul ball actually lands." So Banslaben and his friends figured they'd do it themselves.
They formed a Seattle-based company called IdealSeat, and started building an app. Then, they spent all of last season tracking and recording where every foul ball landed. Their app also allows fans to record their own observations to help beef up the accuracy of the data.
"It's like playing Angry Birds. Fans can just swipe where the ball goes and it instantly gets added to the database," says the co-founder and CEO of IdealSeat.
From there, IdealSeat generates a heat map that shows where balls are hit most often. Currently, the app works for just Safeco Field and Citi Field, home of the New York Mets. But Banslaben envisions quickly scaling to every stadium in the country. And they'll have plenty of data to pull from.
"In any given game you have about 30 balls going into the stands, which when you multiply times 30 teams and 162 games, puts you in about the 80,000 range of foul balls entering the stands per year."
But it's about far more than just foul balls. The company envisions fans one day being able to select seats based on any number of criteria, such as the proximity to a beer stand or bathroom, or the most time in the sun (a big deal at Safeco, where the temperature can vary dramatically between the sun and shade.) And it can work for any sport or event like a concert.
"Anything where you have fans involved and there's characteristics that they want in a seat that are above just the price and the proximity to the event alone, then we can tap into that power, build a community around it, collect the data via open source, and then express it in really cool and neat ways," he says.
The app is currently available exclusively for iOS. The company is working on other versions and developing a business model that includes partnerships with ticket companies to get a commission on any tickets fans buy through their site.
As for whether it works, Banslaben admits he hasn't caught a foul ball yet. But he says plenty of people have come "very close." And thanks to IdealSeat, they've all improved their tans.