BI visualization tool helps Dallas Cowboys sell Romo jerseys

By Eric Lai, Computerworld |  Business Intelligence, BI, NFL

Tony Romo and the rest of the 2-2 Dallas Cowboys may only be average on the football field so far this year. But off the field, especially in the merchandising arena, they remain America's team.

Last year, the Cowboys sold half a million of their young quarterback's No. 9 jersey, estimated Forbes magazine, making it the most popular sports jersey in the country.

This year, the Cowboys expect to sell more than $100 million worth of Romo jerseys and other Cowboys-branded gear, according to Bill Priakos, chief operating officer of Dallas Cowboy Merchandising.

"Nobody gives out their exact numbers, but we feel comfortable we are in the upper echelon" along with Manchester United and the Chicago Bulls, said Priakos, a veteran of Dillard's department stores who joined the Cowboys organization in 1996 to help start up its retail and merchandising division.

Whereas the rest of the NFL's 31 teams outsource everything to Reebok, the Cowboys chose in 2002 to take the higher risk/reward path of controlling all manufacturing, sales and distribution of their branded merchandise.

Managing this eight-figure business requires strong business intelligence and analytics, which the Cowboys pretty much lacked until two years ago, Priakos said.

At that time, the team made the decision to invest in four ostensibly integrated apps: ILS (Integrated Logistics Solutions) from Manhattan Associates for managing its manufacturing and distribution; Ignify for its e-commerce Web site, Microsoft Corp.'s RMS (Retail Management System) software to manage the cash registers at the 35 Dallas Cowboys retail stores, and crowning all of that, Microsoft's Dynamics AX 4.0 software for overall ERP (enterprise resource planning) managing the overall finances and sales planning.

Priakos chose them over picking separate, best-of-breed products, he said, because Microsoft promised that by going this route, he not only would get integrated financial reports, but "one throat to choke" for technical support.

The problem was that no matter how hard he squeezed, Microsoft couldn't deliver on its promise of integrated reporting, Priakos said.

"As we were going through the installation, they kept telling me, 'the BI piece is coming.' That turned out to be French for them not really knowing what they were going to do," Priakos said. The unwanted siloing left Priakos feeling like he was "running four different companies."

The savior turned out to be BI visualization software maker Tableau Software Inc. In six weeks this spring, the vendor built a dashboard for Priakos and his employees that combined data from all sources. (Check out some examples of Tableau's dashboards here.)

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