Professional sports innovation: Patriots, Celtics, Red Sox, and Bruins

A behind-the-scenes look at the business and technology of professional sports through the eyes of four CIOs.
Written by Michael Krigsman, Contributor

Everyone understands the excitement and competition of professional sports. But few of us ever have the chance to take a glimpse behind the scenes at the technology and strategies that make professional sports possible.

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To give us that insider view, network infrastructure provider Enterasys Networks brought together CIOs from all four major sports teams in Boston to discuss mobility, social networking, fan loyalty, and other issues that matter to the business of sports. [Disclosure: Enterasys is a consulting client for market strategy, positioning, and messaging.] I was honored to be a member of the panel.

The professional sports CIO panel consisted of the following participants:

As with all companies, these sports teams face the challenge of selling tickets and gaining customer loyalty in a down economy with increasing competition. For sports as a business, significant competition comes from the television in fans' living rooms, where they can watch games comfortably at home without cost or the hassle of travel. Therefore, the teams invest significantly in finding ways to get "butts in seats", as one CIO described it.

This fundamental issue, finding a way to get fans into the stadium, drives the teams to use technology to the entire customer experience, including how teams sell tickets, make content available inside the stadium, ease the purchase of concession items, and maintain a relationship with fans through the year.

You can watch a video of the entire panel below, but here are several highlights:

  • Because creating a positive fan experience is so important, the CIOs focus on innovation rather than cost savings alone. Using technology to support strategic business goals is baked into the DNA of these sports CIOs.

  • Stadium experience is a critical factor in getting fans to leave home and attend a game. To make live attendance attractive to fans, the teams are actively investing in mobility and high-density wireless networking. As analyst Craig Mathias noted, the stadiums need infrastructure that lets them offer both "coverage and capacity".

  • Mobility based on solid infrastructure is necessary to help teams stay in contact with fans during the game. Mobile devices are the common denominator through which teams help fans shape their own game experience, through social networking and photo sharing; mobile devices let fans stay in touch with content and context information the teams supply on what's happening around the field and in other stadiums around the country.

  • Creating a positive fan experience includes maintaining a relationship with these customers throughout the year. To accomplish this, the teams segment their customer base and craft outreach programs targeted to different fan groups. For example, season ticket holders receive substantial attention from the teams, because they supply significant revenue; as the Celtics' Jay Wessel said, "season ticket holders are the core of our business". Each of the teams has its own plans for loyalty programs, special content, and other benefits aimed at season ticket holders.

Below is a video of the entire panel discussion. If you care about technology and sports, then this is the video for you!

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