How the NFL Is Using Business Technology and Information Technology Together

As in most years, the 2008 Super Bowl was a star-packed event, with Eli Manning and the New York Giants going up against Tom Brady and the undefeated New England Patriots. At halftime, rock icon Tom Petty took the stage.

Off the field, however, the prospects of success or failure for the big event rested heavily on the shoulders of a virtually unknown player: Gameday Management Group. Orlando-based Gameday was responsible for making sure that the buses and limos transporting NFL team members, pro football execs, celebrity performers, corporate VIPs and other constituent groups to the event were running in perfect sync with the precisely tuned Super Bowl schedule.

In the past, the 100-plus Gameday employees working the game had to stay glued to their walkie-talkies to keep on top of the ever-shifting transportation dynamics. This year, however, they used a new solution from  U.S. Fleet Tracking, enabled by KORE Telematics. It combines state-of-the-art online map technology with GPS sensors, allowing Gameday crews to track vehicle movements on their laptops.

“We’re old school,” says Don Jordan, chief operating officer at Gameday. “Typically, we’ve handled the communications directly via our radios with police, entertainment representatives, team officials and corporate handlers. But we needed to upgrade the timeliness and precision of our information flow, and this satellite-based technology was the answer. It alerted us to issues before they became problems.”

In the broad universe of the NFL, Gameday is hardly alone when it comes to seeking newer and better IT tools. Pro football, after all, is a multibillion-dollar business, as driven as any high-profile entertainment-based company by broadcasts, merchandise sales, box-office revenue, marketing, and event planning and execution.

As a result, league and team officials—as well as supporting businesses such as Gameday—are always on the lookout for IT solutions that improve e-commerce, information sharing, data mining, data security, Web site user experience and other services that IT can provide. Here’s a closer look at the myriad ways in which information technology is making an impact on America’s favorite sport.

Falcons Expect E-Commerce Boost

For the Atlanta Falcons, a major overhaul in brick-and-mortar operations—the warehousing of the team’s considerable fan merchandise inventory—led to a significant upgrade of its e-commerce Web site operations this season. The team launched a shift in warehousing operations, resulting in the need to reintegrate all items with Falcon logos—T-shirts, jerseys, footballs, key chains and even those big foam fingers fans wave at games—with the team’s Web site.

“Once we examined this,” says Don Norton, manager of business information systems and executive support for the Falcons, “we saw how extensive and expensive it would be to custom-develop [such an application]. So we looked for an IT company that could integrate with our systems as part of its out-of-the-box offering.”

That’s where Ignify, a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner, stepped in—not only to serve these integration needs, but to provide a new online product catalog, storefront and business-commerce platform for the Falcons’ 365 online store. Thanks to the integration, the Atlanta Falcons’ marketing and promotion departments can more effectively gauge sales trends—such as targeted promotions, real-time inventory reports and key metrics like site visits, visitor browsing history, clickthroughs and customer purchasing patterns. Search-engine optimization is also part of the package, increasing the Falcons’ odds of coming up on top of the Google charts when fans type in phrases like “Atlanta Falcons gear.”

As a result, the Falcons are expecting a considerable uptick in online sales as the season gets under way. With the selection of top-pick quarterback Matt Ryan of Boston College, there’s a hopeful buzz about the team’s future. When fans go to the Falcons’ site to snatch up, say, a jersey with Ryan’s name and a big #2 (his official team number) on the back, they’ll have a much-improved user experience to get to the point of purchase.

“It’s much more fan-friendly than the previous site, which has been in use since 2005,” Norton says. “The new site has much easier navigation—it’s more like what you see on larger e-commerce sites like Amazon.”

The site features better merchandising and reporting, with more information about a fan’s past purchases and what that fan may want on the site now. Also, when fans buy gift cards in stores, they can use more than one card for a purchase online, which wasn’t allowed before. The Ignify solution also boosted anti-fraud tools. “This new site will help us to engage our fans and keep them engaged year-round,” Norton says.