Enterasys, Boston Sports Teams Talk Future of Stadium Tech at Gillette

1/16/13Follow @gthuang

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doesn’t work. Others won’t put any guarantees in writing, or they keep changing the specs. Enterasys, he said, worked with the Patriots for a year, didn’t talk a lot or make big promises, and over-delivered on its product.

He didn’t say how big the Enterasys contract was, except that the Patriots “spent a significant amount of money.” Which is saying something.

Enterasys (pronounced En-TERRA-sis) started in 1983 as Cabletron Systems and used to be headquartered in Andover, MA. The company went public on the New York Stock Exchange in 2001 but was bought by private investment firms in 2005. It competes with the likes of Cisco and 3Com, and is currently led by CEO Chris Crowell, who also spoke at the Gillette event (along with chief customer/marketing officer Vala Afshar).

As for the Patriots, they claim to be the first pro sports team to have a website, dating back to 1994. And they’ve long been viewed as leaders in digital tech. But the other Boston sports teams are facing similar challenges in reaching fans and providing richer game-day experiences in person.

Here are a few highlights from the stellar panel that followed (click on the photo to see who’s who):

—Fred Kirsch, the Pats’ publisher and vice president of content, said his team does a combination of in-house and outsourcing of app development. He also mentioned that some 75 percent of fans’ devices on Gillette’s Wi-Fi network use Apple’s iOS—which is interesting, considering the progress that Android has made in the market.

—Heidi Labritz, director of business applications and IT for the Red Sox, stressed the importance of preserving the team’s core fan base, especially as the past couple of seasons have been difficult ones. She said the Sox are about to pilot a loyalty program that uses wireless tech. (Presumably it could involve checking in on mobile devices at games.) “We need to understand who are customers are,” she said. “The thing we worry about is people showing up” for games.

Case in point: Two seasons ago, the Sox ran a Twitter and Facebook promotion where they offered fans free entry to Fenway during the 7th inning. Only seven people showed up. (To be fair, Dice-K was pitching.)

—Lorraine Spadaro, vice president of technology and e-business for the Bruins, said her team is currently involved in designing a high-density Wi-Fi system for the Garden. She emphasized that the fans’ digital experience should start before they come to the game, and that teams need to deliver content and promotions that fans don’t have access to at home.

—Jay Wessel, vice president of technology for the Celtics, is particularly active in video tech for coaching and scouting purposes, but he also talked about reaching fans and enhancing their experience through mobile and digital means. “We have to make sure we’re touching all our customers in a way that’s best for them,” he said.

Overall I was struck by how similar the big sports teams’ challenges are to those of any consumer-facing business—reaching and segmenting customers, setting up loyalty and rewards programs, managing social media outreach, and so forth. Most of all, getting customers to show up and walk in the door is the common denominator, no matter how strong TV and advertising revenues are (something like $6 billion a year, in the Pats’ case). Winning does not solve all sports business problems, though it certainly helps.

And while there are lots of opportunities for vendors to offer their services, the teams typically don’t have big IT staffs. “I turn away a lot of startups,” said Kirsch.

One area in particular illustrates the challenges of integrating new technology: mobile payments. Sports execs have long thought about things like enabling in-seat payments for concessions. But delivery of goods to long, narrow rows of fans is too difficult, so they have to arrange for pickup somewhere else. Digital security is also an issue, though there are standard ways to ensure that.

Spadaro, from the Bruins, said she was aware of Boston-based LevelUp, saying the mobile rewards app “has gained a lot of users in our market.” But for now, her staff is just keeping a close eye on consumer behavior and isn’t making arrangements to adopt the technology. “We’re watching it,” she said.

And we’ll be watching too, on and off the field. Starting this weekend.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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  • http://twitter.com/RosenRos1 Christopher Rosen

    looks like it was a fantastic event!