IT Staffers Share Sports Teams Glory

By Stan Gibson  |  Posted 2005-03-01

IT Staffers Share Sports Teams Glory

The New England Patriots have climbed to the top of the National Football League and remained there through dedication to the concept of team.

Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick is famous for using his entire roster in every game, including calling on players such as Troy Brown and Mike Vrabel to take on difficult roles outside their specialties.

The teams owner, Kraft Group Ltd., takes a similar approach, calling on Vice President of IT Pat Curley to do many things well. In addition to supporting the football teams IT needs, the 30-year IT veteran quarterbacks the infrastructure for the worldwide operations of Kraft Group, which, with some 800 employees, runs several paper-industry businesses, Gillette Stadium and the New England Revolution professional soccer team, as well as the Patriots.

"There are the box company, the paper company, event management and concessions. All are different," said Curley. Her response, in keeping with the Patriots ethos, is a flexible one. "We have a decentralized infrastructure, and the IT staff is both centralized and decentralized," she said. "The things that are centralized are the WAN, security and telephony. The applications, however, remain unique for each business."

By keeping IT operations running smoothly across the businesses, Curley can turn to the most distinctive demand of her position—supporting Gillette Stadium and the Patriots on game days. Each home game sees the influx of hundreds of employees who work only on game days at concession stands and luxury boxes or in cleanup.

"People dont realize how much is involved. We need to know who is here and when," said Curley. For the purposes of efficiency and security, tracking these people and their identities, uniforms, and the times at which they arrive and depart is critical.

To do the job Curley and her staff issued workers bar-coded ID cards and custom-built an application to track them. "The application was conceived by security folks and operations people here. It was a large effort by a number of people," said Curley, adding, "We believe we have the best application in the business."

Game days entail support for the Patriots and the visiting team, as well as for the media, including network television and radio broadcasts.

Curley deploys one person on each sideline to support the coaches headsets and one person to support the 25 extra phone lines the networks require for each game they broadcast.

Two other IT staffers are available for any contingencies. In addition, the print media and photographers require phone lines of their own, as do the field doctors.

It adds up to as many as 150 connections per game.

Curley is looking into wireless hot-spot technology, seeking a more flexible way to support media needs.

As with many football teams, the Patriots use Avid Sports LLCs system from Pinnacle Systems Inc. to record and track games on video. "As much as can be obtained from the use of technology, our coaching staff does. The coaching staff is quite savvy," said Curley.

Security concerns are never far from her mind, however.

"We dont put that [game video] on the Internet, however," she said.

"When we bought the Avid system in 2000, the ILoveYou virus was fresh in everyones mind."

The National Football League limits technology use to level the playing field among franchises.

For example, teams cannot use video in the locker room during halftime. In another example, all NFL teams are required to shoot video of each home game from both the sideline and end line and send copies of the video to their next two opponents.

Next Page: Fan appreciation.

Fan appreciation

Robert Kraft, chairman of Kraft Group, first got involved with the team as a fan, purchasing season tickets beginning in 1970.

Observing for years the teams sometimes-erratic on-field performance and sitting on a hard, metal bleacher seat in the low-budget Foxboro Stadium, Kraft developed an ambition to acquire the stadium and the team and to do things right.

He achieved those goals in subsequent decades, building a championship team and the state-of-the-art Gillette Stadium, which opened in 2002.

Because Kraft started his relationship with the team when he was a fan, the concerns of fans are never far from his mind or his sons, who run Kraft Groups companies.

"Everything you see about their [the Krafts] regard for the fan is real," said Curley.

One result is a home-developed data mining system designed to track customer purchases and identify marketing opportunities.

The software is a highly customized implementation of Onyx Software Corp.s Marketing application and mines data from various systems.

To read more about technologys position on the Red Sox, click here.

"The nature of the application is it is always in development. We are working with homegrown stuff but looking for the silver bullet," said Curley.

The biggest challenge is separating customers personal and corporate purchases. "Youll always have different elements in marketing to include or exclude," said Curley.

Still, "I would guess that we are the leader in analyzing the information," she said. "I suspect that Seattle might have an edge because of Microsoft [Corp.], but I doubt they are ahead of us in the analysis."

"Tying into the back end was difficult," said the chief innovator for Kraft Group, Trent Adams, whose number is called for special projects.

"There are lots of different databases, and online systems are constantly changing," said Adams. "Thats why we built it [ourselves]. Its more economically viable to be nimble and own the design. We like to own the intellectual property for whatever we do."

One new project is building a Chinese-language version of the Web site, and the Krafts anticipate spearheading pro footballs expansion into new worldwide markets.

"The Krafts are very cognizant of this sort of thing [technology and business], unlike a lot of the team owners, whose focus is just on the field, not on the ancillary components that make this a business—trying to convert potential dollars to actual dollars," said Adams.

Next Page: All quiet on the IT front.

All quiet on the

IT front">

For Curley, who joined the Patriots six years ago, the new stadium was a godsend and a challenge.

The godsend part was the design of the new stadium, which included an up-to-date data center as well as Gigabit Ethernet connections to every workstation.

"We formerly had one IDF [intermediate distribution frame] cabling rack, and now we have 29," said Curley.

The challenging part was getting everything up and running in two weeks for the opening of soccer season in May 2002. Curley and staff made it happen.

As with many IT pros, Curley considers that she has done her job when nothing unusual happens.

But when youre with the Patriots, there are surprises—after the Patriots first two Super Bowl championships, Curley was the proud recipient of ornate Super Bowl rings.

And diamond-studded jewelry isnt all. Four years ago, Curly accompanied the Patriots to the White House to visit President Bush.

Read more here about wireless providers courting sports and entertainment partnerships.

Another thrilling moment occurred a few weeks ago, when Curley had a window seat in one of the Duck Boats that escorted the Patriots through the streets of Boston in the teams victory parade.

"It was fabulous," Curley said. "Its a vantage point I had never had and probably never will have again. I could look up many stories and see people toasting champagne—at that hour in the morning."

Pat Curleys Team

At Kraft Group headquarters in Foxboro, Mass.

3 senior developers

1 WAN manager

2 network administrators

2 full-time help desk staff

2 telephony and events staff

1 student from Northeastern University

2 IT staff for International Forest Products, in Foxboro

4 IT staff at headquarters of Rand-Whitney Group, in Worcester, Mass.

2 IT staff at Rand-Whitney Container Board, in Montville, Conn.

Applications that keep Kraft Group operating smoothly

  • Microsoft Exchange
  • Microsoft Great Plains financials
  • Onyx (heavily customized)
  • Event Pro, for running events
  • Premier retail system
  • Tangent, from Venue1, for food and beverage concessions
  • Ticketmaster
  • Northeast Data Vault—outsourcer of online pro shop

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  • Rocket Fuel