From left to right: Seahawks' Chip Suttles; Lions' Luis Perez; Eagles' Anne Gordon; NFL's Michael Stokes and NFL CIO Michelle McKenna-Doyle.
Jan 16 2014

NFL IT Leaders Bring Football and the Super Bowl into the Digital Age

A new partnership with Extreme Networks sees the league boost its investment in wireless technology for fans.

The message has been received loud and clear: Wireless connectivity at stadiums for football fans isn’t a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have.

“[Fans] have to be as connected at a minimum as they are at home. They expect that as much as they expect a good bathroom,” said NFL CIO Michelle McKenna-Doyle, speaking as part of a panel on the future of the league’s fan experience at NFL headquarters.

The panel was part of an exclusive event put on in partnership with Extreme Networks, where it was announced that Extreme would be the official Wi-Fi analytics provider for the NFL. The Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles, New England Patriots, New York Giants and New York Jets are already using the technology in their stadiums.

These teams received the Wi-Fi analytics technology as part of the rollout of the Extreme Networks high-density wireless solutions they purchased. The analytics portion of the solution means the teams can not only grant wireless access to fans, but also monitor in real time how fans are engaging with each other and the technology.

“The introduction of mobile and social technology has dramatically changed the fan experience, and access to high performance Wi-Fi has emerged as a necessary asset. Combined with our analytics technology, we are providing the NFL with the insights needed to bring a rich and digitally immersive game-day event to all fans,” said panel speaker Chuck Berger, president and CEO, Extreme Networks. “It’s not just about delivering connectivity, it’s about helping deliver an experience, and that’s the key.”

Wi-Fi analytics allow teams and the league to pinpoint trouble spots before they spiral out of control, McKenna-Doyle said. So if a certain section of the stadium is oversaturated with demand for wireless, the IT team can turn down the antenna in another part of the stadium where it’s not being used and amplify the signal where it’s needed most.

The Wi-Fi analytics technology will be used at the upcoming Super Bowl XLVIII in February as well.

“We’re very excited that this will be the first Super Bowl where we'll be able to engage and monitor the types of activities our fans are doing in-game,” said McKenna-Doyle.

The Next Step in the Ultimate Fan Experience

With all this talk of technology, it’s easy to get stuck on the tactics and forget the overall goal: providing the ultimate fan experience.

Assembled on the panel were leaders from the Detroit Lions, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Seattle Seahawks. They each have their own spin on what that ultimate fan experience is, how it competes with the at-home experience and where technology fits into the equation.

Anne Gordon, senior vice president of media and communications for the Philadelphia Eagles, said her team adopts early and iterates rapidly with digital technology. For example, the team is already active on Snapchat, the social media platform du jour.

“We're trying to be fleet. If something isn't working, we move right on,” Gordon said.

For Luis Perez, senior vice president and CFO of the Detroit Lions, it’s not necessary to completely replicate the at-home experience, but it is important to pull elements from that experience that make sense, such as wireless connectivity.

“We have a core advantage that the at-home experience will never have: that sense of community, that vibe, that energy that you're just not going to get at home,” Perez said.

Chip Suttles, vice president of technology for the Seattle Seahawks, wants to create unique in-stadium experiences that can’t be duplicated at home, such as letting fans visit the field during warm-ups or hang out in the broadcast booth. Technology will allow the team to reach out to fans to provide these exclusive in-stadium experiences.

“We’re looking to add push notifications to Seahawks mobile app next season,” Suttles said.

While each of the teams may have their own spin on what the ultimate fan experience is, when it comes to providing wireless access, at a bare minimum fans want to do what they’re able to do everywhere else.

“Fans [in the stadium] are going to the same places [online] that they go at home,” said Perez. “They're just doing the same things they do the rest of their life.”

Ricky Ribeiro

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