The worlds of professional sports and IT, on the surface, don't appear to have much to do with each other. Behind the scenes, however, the two fields are coming together just as quickly as they can - and to hear New England Patriots President Jonathan Kraft tell it, his team is leading the way.
Kraft detailed the extensive investment that the Patriots have made in their fan-facing IT presence, including mobile apps to help make getting concessions and even monitoring the lines for stadium bathrooms easier, and exclusive access to in-stadium video and audio content - shepherded every step of the way by Kirsch and backed by a robust Wi-Fi network provided by the evening's sponsor, Enterasys Networks.
"They believed, after listening to us and working with us for a year, that we could have a system where 70,000 people could have a Wi-Fi experience simultaneously, on the rare occasion that might happen, and that - most importantly - a very significant percentage of them could have a rich streaming Wi-Fi experience with video or audio," he said.
Kraft is co-chair of the NFL's digital media committee. On that panel, Kraft is looking to use his team's experience to help the rest of the league reap the same benefits.
"I think [the league] originally thought that the cell companies could be the solution, and they have installed a lot of [distributed antenna] systems. DAS is good for ... traditional telephony, but I don't think these DAS systems are what's going to allow 70,000 people to do what we're talking about," he said.
At a time when the convenience, comfort and sharply reduced price of watching live sporting events on HDTV is putting ever-increasing pressure on teams to offer a more valuable in-stadium experience, the Boston sports IT brain-trust at the event was quick to distance itself from any question of trying to "monetize" its digital offerings to fans at the game.
"People have paid too much money, they don't want to get nickeled and dimed," Kraft said.
"[Digital content] would be a revenue enhancer only in the rare cases where, if there's an app that might let us sell something additional like a seat upgrade, but in general, no, these are services we feel that need to be provided to keep the fans engaged," said Wessel.
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