“If you want to look up a player’s stats or something, it’s really slow,” said Orioles fan Jackie Davis during the 2-1 loss April 10 to the Toronto Blue Jays in which the home club went hitless for seven innings.
“I’m on Snapchat,” said her friend Elizabeth Goodman, referring to the multimedia messaging app. “Maybe half the time it might go through and the rest of the time it won’t.”
Both were relying on their cellular data networks, rather than on Wi-Fi. Even as nearly every other Major League Baseball club promotes free Wi-Fi, Camden Yards is one of the last without a similar service to let fans connect with the internet on their smartphones.
Without Wi-Fi, fans say, their cellular networks often become overtaxed and slow down because too many people are using them in the same place — think ballgames and concerts.
In most other big league stadiums, Wi-Fi has become as much of a staple as the seventh-inning stretch as the sport reaches out to younger fans for whom posting messages and photos — of the game, themselves and their food — is part of the stadium experience.
In 2012, Major League Baseball formed a consortium with its technology partners to help the sport with its Wi-Fi and other high-tech communication services at stadiums around the country. While it confirmed the consortium last week, MLB declined to say who paid for the Wi-Fi.
Participation by the clubs was optional, but about 20 signed up — two-thirds of the American and National leagues — and most of the rest have secured deals in recent years to get Wi-Fi on their own.
In response to inquiries, the Orioles did not explain why the club didn’t join the consortium, but a team spokesman said indirectly in a statement that it is addressing the lack of Wi-Fi.
“The Orioles are always looking to enhance what many believe to already be the best experience in baseball with additional state-of-the-art technology and best-in-class amenities, and we have an ongoing dialogue with the Maryland Stadium Authority to deliver on that goal,” said Greg Bader, vice president of communications and marketing.
The stadium authority, the team’s state landlord, confirmed it is working with the club but declined to elaborate.
The authority and the team both oversee the stadium. The authority pays for infrastructure, such as replacing seats, concrete or lights. The team pays for upgrades to concession areas, suites and some other parts of the stadium.
The team and the authority are exploring possibilities for securing Wi-Fi, according to a source with knowledge of the problem. One option could be for the team to partner with a vendor to install Wi-Fi at zero or minimal cost in return for advertising — perhaps an ad that appears when a fan connects.
Just this month, the Chicago Cubs entered into a technology and marketing partnership with Comcast and its Xfinity brand that will bring enhanced, free Wi-Fi to fans at Wrigley Field. Comcast also provides cable TV and internet services in the Baltimore region.
Camden Yards still consistently rates among the best stadiums in Major League Baseball in fan and media surveys even though most of the 29 other teams have opened new ballparks since its 1992 debut.
Baseball and other professional sports have changed since then. Wi-Fi in stadiums is no longer “an amenity” but expected by fans, said Bart Giordano, vice president of business development and cloud services for Ruckus, a network equipment manager company that has worked on large stadium projects.
“Think of your own experience,” Giordano said. “The first thing you do when you walk into a venue is you try to get on the Wi-Fi. Your impression of the venue is largely bound by your impression of your connectivity — at hotels, schools, student housing, assisted living centers.”
At baseball games, fans often want to share their experiences.
“Baseball is a great sort of sport where there is a lot of down time where people are occupying themselves” on their phones, he said.
At Nationals Park in Washington — the closest major league stadium to Camden Yards — spectators look for “Nationals Park Fans” in their phone’s wireless settings and don’t need a username or password to log in for free.
Installing stadium Wi-Fi can cost from hundreds of thousands of dollars to well over $1 million, Giordano said.
And it’s more complicated, he said, when the system must be retrofitted — as at Camden Yards — rather than placed inside a stadium under construction. The contractor must not only create effective Wi-Fi but ensure the equipment does not diminish the look of the stadium.
“In Camden Yards’ defense, it’s much better to do it right,” he said.
Camden Yards does have password-protected Wi-Fi available for the media, team staff and MASN, the club’s television network.
Without Wi-Fi for fans, season-ticket plan holder Lila Shapiro-Cyr said, she has noticed problems with slowness in cell service although “in the past I’ve found it to be more of a problem than now.”
But Shapiro-Cyr, a Baltimore lawyer, said there may be an upside to the situation.
“When I’m at the game, I kind of want to be at the game and I don’t want my kids on Instagram and Snapchat,” she said. “It’s easier to have a pure baseball experience if you’re not on social media all the time.”