Sport Franchises Use IT to Keep Fans in Seats

The New England Patriots and other teams are using social-media technologies to create a unique, immersive experience in their stadiums for fans.

“At the end of the first year I wish we had done this year everything we have planned for next year,” says Kraft, who is also a member of the digital committee for the National Football League (NFL). Besides providing the networking equipment, Enterasys employees also staff help desks during games to answer Patriots fans’ technical questions.

According to Enterasys chief marketing and customer officer Vala Afshar, it has only one major stadium project under its belt thus far, compared to well-known rivals such as Cisco which, for example, recently built the wireless network for new Barclays Center in Brooklyn. But Afshar notes that Enterasys has extensive relationships with universities that use its technologies to wire their campuses, so Enterasys might start leveraging what it learned from the Patriots at college stadiums and arena across the country.

The Patriots, meanwhile, have a long history of being a technology leader in the NFL. The team was the first major sports franchise to launch its own website, and since then the web property has become a major distributor of multimedia sports content for Patriots fans.

Of course, nothing the Patriots do goes unnoticed by other New England sports franchises, including the Boston Celtics, the Boston Bruins and the Boston Red Sox. The Celtics, for example, now allow fans to send Twitter messages that can appear on the scoreboard at TDGarden, and season ticket holders can upgrade their seats at the game with their smartphones.

“We’re trying to move to the virtualization of tickets as quick as we can,” says Jay Wessel, vice president of technology for the Celtics.

Similarly, the Bruins, which share a venue with the Celtics, are testing way-finding and parking applications. “We’re trying to create more fan engagement and better relationships with the ticket holders,” says Lorraine Spadaro, vice president of technology and e-business for Delaware North Companies, which owns TDGarden.

Surprisingly, increasing fan loyalty is one of the biggest challenges facing the Red Sox, which have one of the most rabid fan bases in all of professional sports. “Once someone enters the stadium we lose track of them,” says Heidi Labritz, director of business applications for the Red Sox. The Red Sox plans to pilot a loyalty program for its season ticket holders that the organization hopes will join a new “Red Sox Royal Rooters” program that will, for example, gain on-field access during batting practice. Fans may even be able to watch replays on their smartphones at the game, says Labritz.

While IT executives could be forgiven for thinking that these issues are unique to IT managers working for a sports franchise, Craig Mathias, principal for The Farpoint Group, an IT consulting firm, says in reality stadiums are addressing today the wireless networking density issues that all enterprises will face tomorrow.

“The challenge with building these networks is that it all comes down to management and control,” says Mathias. “When you go to the game now what you’re really experiencing is the future of enterprise networking.”

This article was originally published on 01-18-2013
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