Kraft Group: How COVID-19 has Changed Sports & Entertainment

Ryan Hall Manager, Vertical Solutions Marketing Published 16 Feb 2021

Extreme’s new webinar series “Establishing a New Normal?” focuses on industry IT impacts of COVID-19 and examines strategies for reopening across industries.  Our first session, “Key Considerations for IT Leaders,” features CIO at the Kraft Group, Michael Israel, who walked us through implications for sports and entertainment, possibilities for the new normal, and advice for IT leaders.

Impacts of the pandemic in sports & entertainment

Based in the Foxborough, Massachusetts area, the Kraft Group consists of multiple companies, including Gillette Stadium operations for the New England Patriots and New England Revolution, as well as several paper manufacturing and recycling businesses. Though the region has been by and large closed down, paper manufacturing businesses have continued operations. “The pandemic has put some strain on us, as we have a workforce that’s split between work at home and onsite,” Michael Israel, CIO at the Kraft Group explained.

The future digital experience for sports fandom

As the outcomes of the pandemic continue to unfold, there’s the question of the future digital experience for sports fans. It’s interesting to imagine the trends and challenges we can expect to see coming out of sports and entertainment to engage the fan base.

It’s entirely possible we’ll witness traditional sports (football, basketball, baseball, etc.) following Esports’ lead. Sports organizations may leverage in-stadium core networks, 5G, and Wi-Fi to extend the stadium experience to fans at home. How do you replicate what you see in a stadium firsthand and extend it into people’s homes? One prediction is replicating the dynamic of watching Esports on TV or on comparable streaming services.

On the other hand, reengaging with sports fans is a fluctuating process from one day to the next. “We hear different things from government officials every day,” Israel said. “We’ll have to put plans in place to look closely at everything from how fans will enter stadiums, purchasing food and beverages, potentially taking peoples’ temperatures, and more.” No doubt there’ll be a new procedure for getting crowds into the stadium in a timely manner and allowing fans to purchase food and merchandise with minimal interaction. It’s likely to be an entirely different experience than the stadium of the past. “We’re looking at how we change things up to be more reactive,” Israel commented.

If anything, the pandemic has accelerated the pace of technology advancement because fans are at home – they’re no longer tailgating in the parking lot before the match. The experience has been a social one historically, so the sports and entertainment industry is tasked with bringing fans together before, during, and after the game. Perhaps we’ll see more virtual events with sports figures engaged with social media more actively. Fans may have access to behind-the-scenes types of digital experiences to observe how players are training or preparing for games. In the near future, it’s possible that fans may even have the ability to select their own camera angles when watching a game.  

A post-pandemic venue environment

Like every industry, the situation at hand in sports and entertainment is a fluid one. When we reimagine the stadium environment as sports teams prepare to welcome back fans, there are many unknowns. Sports organizations are looking to direction from local authorities and government agencies, as well as the NFL League Office and other major sports organizations. Unfortunately, many of the answers simply haven’t been determined yet. As a result, it’s hard to say exactly what the stadium experience will look like as society emerges from the pandemic. From a planning perspective, sports organizations are preparing to monitor fans who enter stadiums without taking on a role similar to that of a hospital. “We want to be able to monitor folks who are coming in, but at the same time, not store that type of information,” Israel said. Cognizance of restrictions and compliance regulations will certainly be a priority, but details beyond that simply haven’t been decided.

Insights for technology leaders in sports and entertainment

As for IT considerations amidst the global pandemic, sports organizations looking to design robust environments well prepared for the unknown will do well to make a significant investment in the backbone infrastructure. Investment in engaging technologies, whether 5G or enhanced Wi-Fi capabilities, make sure end users are being taken care of. Finally, as the current state of events continues, sports teams and their venues will need to take time to reflect on what’s working and what isn’t – fine-tuning their new normal approach continuously.  This strategy only underscores the need for a robust IT solution to support the unique, evolving requirements sports venues will face.

“Learn from the past three months as you start to plan out the next three to six months. We only get better based on what we’ve learned from the past.” -Michael Israel, CIO, The Kraft Group

This post focuses on some of the unique insights shared in sports and entertainment, but the webinar goes into much greater detail across industries. Learn more about the impacts of the pandemic and plans for reopening and remobilizing from technology experts across different industries and watch the webinar on-demand: Establishing a New Normal: Key Considerations for IT Leaders.

For more information surrounding how Extreme Networks partners with sports teams and their venues to address the new and elevated demands in today’s ‘new normal,’ visit our Sports & Public Venues vertical solution page.

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