Game Day for Technology – TWICE

Michelle McKenna, NFL CIO at CES 2020

The CES 2020 session explains how the NFL uses state-of-the-art technology to improve the gaming experience for fans, players, coaches and owners.

By Anthony Savona

The National Football League (NFL) is known for expanding the technological range of professional sports – from stadiums to the health and safety of players to the fan experience. CES attendees were given an insight by Michelle McKenna, chief information officer of the National Football League, at a session titled “NFL on the Digital Frontier” on Tuesday. The session was hosted by Taylor Bloom, CEO of SportTechie, and discussed the uses of NFL cutting-edge technology to improve the gaming experience for fans, players, coaches and owners.

Michelle McKenna, NFL CIO at CES 2020
National Football League's Chief Information Officer Michelle McKenna speaks at CES 2020.

This is McKenna's eighth year as CIO for the NFL, having previously held similar positions at Disney and Universal Studios. However, as a lifelong inveterate soccer fan, she believes that soccer fans are the best and deserve the very best, and has worked to do so for her.

She is the NFL's first CIO and had to figure out what had to change in the organization when she learned to work in a different hierarchy than her previous positions. "To do my job, I had to have healthy respect and awe for the game," she said. “It all starts with the game. If you take this into account and work to increase the competitiveness and engagement of the fans, you will find resistance, but also champions who will help you to achieve this. "

One of the biggest changes she brought to the NFL was the involvement of the technology teams. "We found that the tech teams weren't hired until the end," she said. "The last in the chain. We said, "Bring us in if you're thinking of a venue for the first time." Every company is now a technology company and you cannot leave it until the end. We are now at the beginning of everything. "

McKenna also stressed the importance of having the right sponsors as the key to successful technology deployment. “We do great things with great sponsors like Microsoft, Verizon and AWS. We find a problem that needs to be solved and find a sponsor who makes it possible. For example, Wi-Fi in stadiums. We had to convince the owners of how important it was and we had to find a partner who could help us. We worked with Verizon and Extreme Networks and they went to every stadium. "

5G is on the horizon for the NFL, the technology will be introduced this season in 16 stadiums and at the upcoming Super Bowl. "You have to be in front of the devices," she said. “With 5G, you can immerse yourself in the game in other ways. For example, you can see the virtual yellow line that you see at home but not in stadiums. 5G will revolutionize the entire stadium experience, from food and drink to seating and entrances and exits. "

When asked where the NFL will be technologically in five years time, McKenna replied: “I hope that in five years we will be talking about progress in player health and safety. Not just our players, but the entire sport by investing in a deep understanding of our players' health and safety. And that we find new and advanced ways to ensure that the game stays as good as it is. "

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