Justin Stahl, vice president of IT for the Chicago Bears, spoke Oct. 27 at the CDW Executive SummIT in Chicago.

Nov 02 2022

How Technology Services Help the Chicago Bears Navigate the Future of IT

Trusted partners support the team’s effort to implement advanced solutions on the field and around the stadium.

Professional football teams need teamwork to win. For the Chicago Bears, the requirement for teamwork applies to both the players on the team and the small IT staff that supports them. Justin Stahl, the Bears’ vice president of IT, relies on technology to improve the play of the team on the field as well as the experience of fans who attend games or interact with the Bears in other ways.

“We’re a team of about eight or nine people, but we cover the breadth of anything any other IT organization covers,” Stahl said during a session at the recent CDW Executive SummIT in Chicago. “Anything from networking, infrastructure, storage and security. We're very heavily focused on our IT operations, coupled with service and support.”

The size of the Bears’ IT team could be a challenge, given the responsibilities it has for everything from managing data collected by on-field sensors for analysis by team personnel to maintaining the stadium Wi-Fi network that fans use to keep in touch while attending games. Stahl supplements the skills of his IT staff with help from a trusted partner, CDW.

“We build great partner relationships, trusted relationships, and we are humble enough to know what we don’t know and admit that we’re always going to need help,” Stahl said. “We're just too small to do the technology all the time, so that means paying for services, moving things to the cloud and using best practices.”

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Overcoming Technological Hurdles with Trusted Partners

With a small IT staff, it’s essential for Stahl to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each member of his team. He needs to know where their skills may be applied to move initiatives forward and where an outside expert can fill in gaps. In some cases, the need for help from a partner is simply a numbers game: There are only so many hours a day when IT employees are on duty, but some technologies require continuous attention.

“We are reliant on third parties. Third-party monitoring is a big thing for us,” he says. “I have a small team, and they must sleep sometime.”

In addition to working with partners such as CDW, the Bears’ IT team also collaborates with professionals from other NFL clubs, as well as the league itself. On the field, teams compete for every yard, but working with IT staff from other teams can help more clubs solve problems and implement best practices.

If one team finds an innovative approach to implementing new technologies, the league as a whole is stronger if that approach is adopted widely. This collaboration can even extend beyond the NFL and include professional sports organizations in other leagues.

“We want to understand the innovations that are coming down the pipeline,” Stahl said. “We have a good network of teams across sports, and we look at what other stadiums are doing, what other teams are doing.”

Click here to see more coverage from the CDW Executive SummIT: Making IT a RealITy.

Turning Data into On-Field Success

One area where Stahl is particularly excited to engage his team is in data analytics. In recent years, the NFL has been inundated with new data from sources such as sensors placed in players’ pads and helmets and in footballs. By tracking the movements of these sensors, the league can measure every move on the field 10 times per second.

“The power of that data is amazing,” Stahl says. “We now have the ability to tell how open a wide receiver was at the 10th of a second when the ball was released from the quarterback. That's powerful data in terms of evaluating players, evaluating opponents and scouting.”

The NFL didn’t share this data with teams immediately, but it has provided more information in recent seasons. As clubs waited for the data to arrive, some were able to prepare to use it.

The Bears knew they needed to advance their analytics capabilities to take advantage of the opportunity. But they didn’t know precisely how much data they would need to work with, and what format it would take, so Stahl and his team focused on flexibility and scalability. Ultimately, the Bears deployed a hyperconverged infrastructure solution that enabled the club to scale its data analysis operation quickly.

“We were one of the clubs that was very hungry for this data,” Stahl said. “When the NFL Competition Committee voted to allow clubs to have sensor data, we were ready for it. And we were excited to use it as a competitive advantage.”

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Photography by Kwynci Fields

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