CBS SportsLine bombs in IT, apologizes, bombs again

There may be a lot of debate about whether IT matters in other industries, but in fantasy football it's clear cut--poor information systems management means lost customers. Ask CBS SportsLine, a unit of CBS Digital Media.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

There may be a lot of debate about whether IT matters in other industries, but in fantasy football it's clear cut--poor information systems management means lost customers.
Ask CBS SportsLine, a unit of CBS Digital Media. This year CBS SportsLine's technology management has gone from good to poor at a rapid clip and customers (notably me and a bunch of other fantasy junkies) are peeved. There's nothing worse than going to check scores for your fantasy team only to find a site down. CBS SportsLine's fix a few weeks ago was to take a big step and apologize to customers. Perhaps internal technology departments apologize to users all the time, but customers usually don't see this kind of candor. Personally, I felt better and appreciated the status report. Of course, I'm also a captive customer since I like the options CBS SportsLine provides relative to Yahoo.

Excerpts from the letter, which was posted on the CBS SportsLine fantasy sites, included:

"Every year, CBS SportsLine takes great pride in doing the work required to remain the acknowledged leader in Fantasy Sports. We relish beingthe industry leader, and we respect the challenge of delivering thebest in Fantasy to an audience that expects nothing less.

To meet that challenge, we set ambitious and often competing goals for ourselves: Make league setup easier, but allow more flexibility for custom scoringAdd more advanced features, but keep pages clean and instructions short. Supply more live, updating stats, but make page-loads faster Allow for growth, but make the network simple and speedy. These are bold and contradictory goals. Not easy to do. If you can achieve these and deliver week in and week out for everyone who plays, you deserve the title of Champ. In the past, we've met that challenge, but so far this year, we've fallen short."

From there the letter dissects what went wrong:
"Some of our customers experienced service interruptions, but they were short or infrequent. In fact, for almost everyone, the amount of time in which problems occurred has been only a small fraction of the entirefantasy season. The problem has not been the AMOUNT of time things have not worked. The problem has been WHEN things have not worked.

Many of our affected customers experienced problems at the worst possible time: just before kickoff on Sunday or at the peak of playbetween the early and late set of games. By our standard, if you missed either of these crucial times the entire week is a bust, and for that we are deeply sorry."

And then comes the remedy:
"Addressing the quality of service issues that have occurred this fantasy season is the #1 priority for nearly every member of the CBS SportsLine staff. Beassured that our staff has been on high alert since the beginning ofthe season and will remain so until YOU tell us that our service is running smoothly.
What follows is our season Report Card. It's our performance assessment through the first half of the year. We're openly sharing this with you for several reasons. First, we want you to know that we view our performance this year is unacceptable. CBS SportsLine holds itself to an extremely high standard as we know that's why you choose our service. Second, we owe it to you as you've stood by us year in and year out. "

I appreciated the disclosure and had hopes that things were fixed. Unfortunately, SportsLine's Week 10 performance was abysmal. The good news: SportsLine gave itself an "F" grade in its report card, which reveals a house of technology horror.
Here's SportsLine's assessment for Week 10:
"Problem: There was once more a problem around the traffic spike periods: just before kickoff, after the first games and at the end of the day as members came in to check scoring.
Impact: Many members could not set lineups just before kickoff. Others might have been unable to view live scoring after the late games ended. Still others would have had no problems whatsoever.
Solution: We're making repairs on two fronts to drive greater efficiency during these peak periods. Unfortunately, there is no way to accurately simulate traffic loads of this size, so until game day, we will not know if these tactics have addressed the issues."

The bottom line here is that SportsLine is testing its technology infrastructure without a net. And that's a recipe for disaster (not uncommon though since ESPN had similar problems when I was a customer three years ago).
The lesson for technology managers: When your systems aren't up to snuff an apology to customers can go a long way. The rub: You have to fix the root cause of the problem to keep customers. 
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