IT Hits a Home Run

Professional sports CIOs embrace IT to improve player performance and as the vehicle to generate more revenues for franchise holders.

Optimism in the CIO ranks? Yes, and lots of it—at least in the ranks of the three CIOs speaking recently at a breakfast held by the Massachusetts Software Council. The program provided a good counterpoint to the general monotone message Ive heard from many technology executives. That monotone monologue usually mentions flat spending plans, unrealistic and unrealized big IT projects, and management by bean counting rather than forward-thinking technology implementations.

The upbeat message came from an unexpected quarter: sports. Of course, Boston has enjoyed a hugely successful sports run this fall. The come-from-behind Red Sox victory over a New York-based team whose name I forget and the World Series championship were remarkable and memorable—the best sports story bar none in more than 80 years. The New England Patriots have resumed their winning ways, marching toward the Super Bowl again. Within that success resides a growing interest in using technology to improve player performance and as the vehicle to generate more revenues for franchise holders.

The trio speaking at the breakfast consisted of Pat Curley, vice president of IT for the Kraft Group (which owns the Patriots); Steve Conley, director of IT and telecommunications for the Red Sox; and Daryl Morey, senior vice president of operations and information for the Boston Celtics. While it is easy to think only in terms of player and coach personalities and skills as the main determinant of a teams success, the intelligent use of technology has been playing a greater role.

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here to read how one professional basketball team is installing Wi-Fi in its arena.

As Conley said, the Red Sox travel with a video playback system that lets them view performances of the pitcher whom team members will be facing. The ability to store the video and, more important, the ability to find the pitching performance they are looking for are important parts of the players preparation. That type of performance review is also becoming a more important part of the sports scene, not just for baseball but also for football and basketball.

An equally important part of technologys role in sports is improving the fan experience. In this case, it is the ability to upsell products and services to fans in a manner that is not intrusive and is simple to understand.

Take, for example, the Celtics organization. The Celtics have not been enjoying the type of success found by their Massachusetts brethren. Unlike the Red Sox, whose owners are figuring out the best revenues they can derive from a constantly sold-out Fenway Park, the Celtics might have more than a few tickets available at game time. Maybe the team would like to connect cell-phone-toting fans with a last-minute ticket offer or suggest better seats to fans already at the Fleet Center. Whether it be seats or souvenirs, the Celtics want to make that offer immediately, or else the team—like the airplane that takes off with empty seats—could miss out on that sales opportunity forever. "We are looking to build escalating offerings to our fan base," said Morey.

And while these sports-world technology executives are certainly not enjoying wide-open wallets for spending, they do have management support for projects that build revenues. The ROI difference between a partially empty stadium and a stadium at capacity with fans buying souvenirs and hot dogs is very easy to calculate. The technology issues are solid, knotty systems issues about developing e-commerce vehicles that are reliable, secure, scalable and sufficiently flexible to enable cell phone or laptop transactions.

These sports tech stars have something to teach the rest of the technology community. Start with your customers, and ask yourself whether you give them the full range of buying and upgrading options when they do business with your company. If you can step out of the narrow confines of product upgrades and consolidation and move into the realm of customer offerings in new and innovative ways, you can rekindle the excitement inherent in bringing new technology to old business processes—and maybe find a new reason for optimism at well.

Editor in Chief Eric Lundquist can be reached at

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