Akamai Helps Patriots Gear Up for Super Bowl

1/30/08Follow @wroush

For Cambridge, MA-based Akamai, the Super Bowl has already started. Among the customers of the networking and content-distribution giant are both the NFL and the undefeated New England Patriots—and the Patriots’ official website has been overflowing this week with press-conference video and other material from Phoenix, AZ, where the team arrived on January 27 and is now preparing to do battle with the New York Giants in this Sunday’s game. Making sure that content streams out to site visitors smoothly, whether they’re watching from Topeka or Tanzania, is Akamai’s job.

“I hate to use the word, but there are a lot of expatriates all around the world who are logging on to find out what’s going on with their New England Patriots, and the Akamai network allows for the local delivery of content from Patriots.com even though the Patriots’ infrastructure is in the U.S.,” says Brad Rinklin, Akamai’s vice president of marketing.

But there’s more to Akamai’s services these days than making sure websites respond to visitors’ file requests quickly. Go to the Patriots’ home page and you’ll see, in a box labeled “latest media,” a Patriots-branded media player that the team developed using Akamai’s Flash-based media framework, according to Rinklin. Using the player, visitors can pluck dozens of recorded videos from Akamai’s distributed network of content servers on demand. Or if a live event such as a press conference is underway, the player will switch automatically to the live stream. On January 27, in fact, Patriots.com visitors got a chance to act like TV producers in a network booth, choosing from five simultaneous live feeds showing Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and several players at separate podiums during a press briefing.

“The Patriots are definitely on the cutting edge” when it comes to using video, podcasts, and other digital media to extend the team’s brand, says Rinklin. “The Krafts…are bringing a whole new realm of interactivity to their franchise on the Web. I can’t think of another team that has gone as far as they have in that regard.”

Akamai will get even busier once the big game is underway. For the third year in a row, the company plans to track Web usage patterns during the Super Bowl TV broadcast, monitoring which commercials trigger the biggest waves of traffic to advertisers’ websites. On a normal day, you can visit Akamai’s Net Usage Index to see real-time trends in traffic to retail, news, and music sites in various regions of the world. On Super Bowl Sunday, Akamai will focus the index on traffic to the websites of the dozens of big companies planning to run integrated TV and Web advertising campaigns.

It’s become clear since Akamai started measuring Super Bowl Web traffic in 2006 that a growing number of people are surfing from their desktops or laptops while watching the big game, says Rinklin. “We’ve seen this grow exponentially,” he says. “But actual traffic correlates to how the TV advertisements are being used. If it’s just an ad that says ‘Here’s Coke,’ that’s not going to drive a lot of people to the Coke site. But if it’s a cliffhanger with an action-packed scene that says ‘To see what happens next, go to this website and download a coupon to go buy our product’—those sites are going to see a massive increase in traffic, thanks to the number of households that have broadband connectivity and wireless networks.”

The data Akamai collects will be critical to advertisers who want to know, after the game, which ads paid off and whether their websites stood up under the load. “From watching which ads run and correlating that with traffic over a certain amount of time, we can make a pretty good deduction about what were the most popular ads,” says Rinklin. “That helps advertisers know what’s working and what’s not. Some advertisers spend a lot on their ads and end up driving very little traffic.”

Others get more than they expect—and Rinklin suggests not-so-subtly that if they aren’t using Akamai’s content distribution network, their web servers might crack on the pressure, a la the notorious Victoria’s Secret fashion show debacle during the 1999 Super Bowl (which probably did more than any other single media event to sell companies on the need for a content-distribution network like Akamai’s that would prevent future traffic jams).

Let’s see—Victoria’s Secret, Super Bowl, New England Patriots, cracking under the pressure of racy lingerie… There’s a Tom Brady/Gisele Bundchen joke somewhere in there…but I’ll just punt.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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