Michelle McKenna-Doyle is Senior Vice President and CIO of the National Football League. She is responsible for the NFL’s technology strategy, shared service delivery and management of the league’s corporate technology activities. Michelle joined the NFL from Constellation Energy in Baltimore, Maryland where she was also CIO. Prior to Constellation, she was President of Vision Interactive Media Group, where she was responsible for marketing, technology, business development, operations and finance. Michelle also has extensive experience in the media and entertainment industry as an SVP and CIO at Universal Orlando Resort. In this role, she was responsible for the oversight of technology at Universal Orlando Resort, including the recent launch of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. She also served as SVP and CIO Centex Destination Properties. In her 13-year career with The Walt Disney World Company, she held a variety of executive positions in resort development, finance, marketing, operations and technology. 

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Video Transcript: Michelle McKenna-Doyle, CIO, National Football League

Michael:         

(00:04) Hello and welcome to episode number 74 at CXOTalk. I’m Michael Krigsman with my… shall we say, glorious co-host Vala Afshar, Vala.

Vala:   

Michael how are you? We finally get to catch a fist bump on Camera.

Michael:         

Finally, and we’re here at Gillette stadium, home of the Patriots with...why don’t you announce our amazing guest.

Vala:   

Fantastic, we’re here with Michelle McKenna-Doyle, CIO of the NFL. Thank you very much for joining us Michelle.

Michelle:        

(00:40) Thank you for having me. Thrilled to be here.

Vala:   

(00:43) Our audience would love to know a little about your background and a little bit about the NFL.

Michelle:        

(00:47) Yeah, sure definitely. I’m entering my third season at the NFL, so very excited not to be in my anymore. I joined NFL from Constellation Energy where I was there CIO, but I spent most of my career in the entertainment business andin  theme parks, both for Walt Disney company and Universal Studios. So some pretty fun exciting jobs but this tops it. I’m a huge sports fan. Grew up loving football. I was the little girl who wished she could play football and my brother actually played college football so at the University of Alabama so I now get to tell him that I made it to the NFL and not him. So good old sibling rivalry.

Vala:   

(01:30) That’s fantastic, NFL must be amazingjust amazing.

Michelle:        

(01:32) You know NFL it is the most popular sports league. It’s amazing to watch what our fans do and love about our sport and it’s comprised as you know of 32 franchises that compete every year to win the coveted Lombardi Trophy at the Super bowl which is the world’s largest annual most popular sporting event.

Last year, Super Bowl XLVIII we had over 200 million viewers making it the most watched television program in the US history.

Michael:         

(02:06) The impact on culture is incredible.

Michelle:        

(02:10) Exactly, well you know culturally it’s the time of gathering of families, friends. It is the top party at home party to have ranking ahead of New Year’s Eve. More food is consumed on Super bowl Sunday in people’s homes, second only to Thanksgiving. So it’s a real cultural thing to be a part of, and founded in the 20’s that really set the model for modern day for sports leagues with extensive revenue sharing, competitive excellence the things that make all our clubs successful across the board and certainly the national distribution for broadcast deals. All of that kind of led to us being Americas game and it’s very exciting to be a part of it.

Michael:         

(03:00) Now the role of technology has been growing.

Michelle:        

Yes.

Michael:         

(03:04) So tell us what’s going on with technology in the NFL?

Michelle:        

(03:08) You know the game has always been evolving but it’s just now technology is much a part of what we all do every day, so  no surprise that its now very much a part of our game from everything to what players do and to how fans interact, to how coaches coach. So a lot is happening on the technology front.

(03:30) In the past couple of years since I’ve been at the league I’ve seen just this unbelievable rise and the demand for it, and for us to be able to provide the kind of mobile solution that people need. So it’s been quite a transformation that we’ve gone through to kind of bring technology to out of the data center and onto the field and in the locker rooms and in our fans hands.

Vala:   

(04:00) When did technology become a core strategy for the NFL, certainly I would say 2007 Apple introducing the iPhone was a marker in terms of technology and computing in your pocket, and of course social is exploding and apps and we have the privilege of partnering with the NFL and it feels like when you came onboard, really the agenda and the strategy of bringing technology closer to the fans was something that the NFL embraced.

Michelle:        

(04:28) Right, I think certainly the NFL has been evolving over the years and that mobility of technology is what really began to fill the growth and I think they recognized and wanted to hire CIO’s that have experience with the sort of intimate guest experience and that’s what I was able to bring. With my background at Disney and watching the Harry Potter I had sort ofthat hands on fan and coven guest business experience.

(05:04)So I just love that I’m here at this amazing time, because it’s a great time to be a CIO and it’s an amazing time to be the CIO at the NFL.

Michael:         

(05:13) So fan experience is very very important to the NFL and you’re investing a lot in technology there. So let’s begin with a characterization or a description of the fan. Describe the NFL fan if you can.

Michelle:        

(05:30) Well you know the fans and looking at the stats, 188 million fans in the US who raise their hands and say there an NFL fan with over three quarters of them saying there avid fans and what’s amazing they cover all demographic areas. So I was also pulling some stats so I could share them about the fans. 46% of our fans are female, would that surprise you, that’s a very high number.

Vala:   

That’s surprising.

Michelle:        

(06:04) 78% of kids aged 12 to 17 say that they’re a fan of the NFL. 78% of teenagers between 12 and 17 raised their hand and said yes, I’m a fan of the NFL. And 65% of Hispanics in the US say that they’re fans of the NFL, so what that says is, wow, you know, we’re representing across a lot more of what you typically think of as your male 25 to 34 avid fan.  We’re covering all the bases. So first of all that’s a very diverse group, which means you have to have a diverse way of communicating to them you know connecting with them and when you connect with them.

(06:48) So they love – the ones that are avid fans follow us all year and not just during the season and we do things to fill the calendar so that we do stay in touch with our fans. And ultimately the fan experience at home is awesome. But working with partners like Extreme Networks which we’ll talk some today and here a great event that is hosted today by Extreme. We try to bring that same technology that you can experience at home and add the in person element which there is no match for experiencing it in and NFL stadium and have the fans being able to be connected during the whole time.

Vala:   

(07:30) How extraordinary is it for a CIO Michael to be able to understand the demographics of the customer at different degrees, where there’s gender, age or industry, and that’s what sets CIO’s apart.

Michael:         

So is the data, understanding the data.

Vala:   

Customer focused and their using the data to improve the customer experience which to me – and I’ve worked with a lot of CIO’s puts you in the 1%. So how are you leveraging technology, now that you understand the fans profile, give us some examples of how you use technology to improve the fan experience.

Michelle:        

(08:12)Yes, so listening to our fans is the first and when we hear – and I’ll give you some examples since we’re at the Patriots they have an amazing app that they have deployed to their fans and they have everything in it from where’s the shortest line to buy a beer to where is the shortest bathroom line. So you can guess those two kind of go together, you know if I going to have that extra beer I need to know where the bathroom is.

(08:42) things like that that are convenience based that don’t seem like a major a-ha thing to do, but you would think to necessarily do it unless you listen to your fans. We also listen to our fans – our female fans around our consumer products. You know a lot of the stuff that’s in the marketplace that’s made for a woman’s body. So now you can go on line, we launched a whole new women’s line two years ago.My fisrt day at the NFL actually was a Vogue event hosted at headquarters and I was like, wow, this is my welcome party.

(09:24) So we introduced new products and new ways to connect and some of our fans only connect to us digitally. So if you live in Europe or in London if you’re a fan you don’t have the same broadcast distribution. So we’ve worked on different deals on how you can strain different amounts based on where you live. So we have to be flexible, so that our fans can consume our content how they wish.

Michael:         

(09:53) The teams develop their own apps and technologies and the NFL is developing apps as well.

Michelle:        

(10:03) That’s right, we try to make sure that all of our fan experiences across all clubs are excellent. We have minimum standards rules around the in game experience and the in game presentation, but often it includes an. But each club is welcome to put their own spin on it because each club’s fans are unique, and they are, and it’s important to know of while we have lots of fans in the NFL fans are fans of the team first and then of the league second. So they love teams and players and the league in that order, so that’s the way we prioritize a lot of the technologies.

(10:45) However, the league puts on play-offs as well as about marquee event, the Super Bowl, so we are developing the sheer an amazing experience and a new app for Super Bowl XLIX. So if you are one of the lucky fans that gets to come and be at the game you will get to experience it.

Vala:   

(11:02) That’s fantastic. As the CIO of the NFL, you understand that the 32 clubs need to have some foundational element to their infrastructure, to be able to connect this hyper connective fan always Instagraming, tweeting, Facebook, snapshot, but behind all of that technology is the infrastructure. Can you talk a little bit about – we talked about mobility, about your views on Wi-Fi and wireless to enable this experience.

Michelle:        

(11:33) Well I think this has been an amazing trend to watch and understand. And one of the things that you learn very quickly when you come to the NFL was that our environment is very unique.

(11:45) So while I had to account for millions of people that visit theme parks, they are all moving around, you know they’re not sitting still, they are not enclosed in a venue made of concrete. You know, there are just things about the physicality to our environment that makes it difficult.

(12:04)But then we did an extensive study to determine what was the minimum level required and we partnered with companies like Extreme Network as well as Horizon, who our mobility NFL mobile sponsor, and we learnt the DAZ sort of environment has to work in concert with the Wi-Fi environment, so it’s not one of the other. And I think if you go back just a couple of years ago, you hear carriers saying, you only need good progress DAZ because we’ve got this great LTE network. That is true, or it was true then but the consumption of digital content, particular video has grown so fast that now the DAZ environment need Wi-Fi. Both have got to be very robust in order to handle the demand.

(12:59)And we did some analytics at this year’s Super Bowl to learn about that in partnership with Extreme around what fans were doing in the stadium and how they were doing it and how we could continue to tweak the infrastructure environment.

Vala:   

(13:16) So in a sense you have been undertaking a digital transformation of the NFL thinking of how you can translate that fan experience which previously only took place in the stadium but now it is much more broadly dispersed.

Michelle:        

(13:35) Yeah, I think the NFL for the past many years has been making that along with our broadcasters have been making that in-home experience amazing and so much so that perhaps we needed to pay a little closer attention to the expectations are of our fans. So the better at home experience get with more data and video analysis, you can have at home, the more you expect the bar to be raised when you are in the stadium.

(14:09) that’s something we always want the game to be front and centre that should be the most important thing to be happening and not some cool thing that is happening on your phone. However, it needs to be complimentary to the experience in the stadium. So there has been a digital transformation around making content mobile.

(14:29)So just this week we launched NFL Now, which is an On Demand personalized video service that fans can personalize all things NFL and watch content anytime, anywhere, on any device multiple operating system. So it has again a great time to be here.

Vala:   

(14:54) When I think about my own experience with my family watching TV at home and it’s a multi-screened experience. I am holding a tablet or a smart phone during a Sunday and it could be Red Zone or it could be fantasy football. So how are you delivering that type of multiscreen environments in the stadium slots.

Michelle:        

(15:16)  That’s a great point, what we are working on doing is first of all making sure connectivity as you said it’s a give it, I mean it’s like having to have a bathroom. It cannot be optional, you have to have, and our clubs are understanding with that and all are undertaking syndicate investments so that’s first.

(15:41) Secondly, we love our season ticket holders, so those of us who hold season tickets who have a favorite team and come every year and watch practice – like there was a practice here at Gillette today, you want to make sure that they have got the full experiences. So things like Red Zone those are things that you would typically not have in the stadium, but we are now making them available as benefits to seasoned ticketholders.

(16:08) Then entertainment and special experiences are allowing a fan to sign up and hopefully may be when a sideline pass or win a chance to be on the field when the Lombardi trophy is presented. You know, things like that can happen with one fan one at a time only through technology.

Vala:   

So your personalizing.

Michelle:        

(16:33) It’s personalized and I mean you have got to make a connection, even although we make millions of connections and you know, 200 million people watching the Super Bowl, those one-to-one connections are what makes and live on in your memory of that special moment and experience. So we recognise that technology is that it’s not a necessary evil, it’s a way to connect to your fan and the customer in the case of other companies. You know, you just have to tap into the organisation to see that if you are a CIO. You know, you have to build the case for why – it’s a must.

Michael:         

(17:18) What about fantasy football which is so important. So tell us for people who don’t know and there may be a few, first tell us a little bit of what that is

Michelle:        

(17:30) The fantasy football you can be your own general manager you can scout, analyze, pick, choose and draft your own players and build your own dream team basically to compete in a league. And based on the performance of the players based on your team you play and have a match against another team that’s in your fantasy league. We have found such an amazing way for people who know how football is played. But more surprisingly, those who don’t know football to learn football, because a social element of a family or a school or a group of pulling together and sort of learning and playing fantasy football together, it really continues to expand our fan base.

(18:21) We at the NFL launched a few years ago our own fantasy site. Fantasy can be played across a wide variety of sites, but the NFL launched its own fantasy site which is the only fantasy site that you can analyze videos. So they have access to the extensive video library, so if you are really into it you know, you can even analyze plays and that kind of thing.

So that’s what fantasy is and it has become important to our business.

Vala:   

(18:50) It sounds like an unbelievable use of educating and expanding for communities. Is that kind of a community analogy?

Michelle:        

(18:56) It’s definitely, it’s a kind of reality television meets community and what’s so cool about this is that it’s taking an asset that the NFL already had, which is all the statistics on all the players and all the video for every play that is connected to every. That is proprietary technology that we own and that we distribute to all the outlets around.

(19:25) It’s like within companies all over there is hidden data assets in every organisation that hasn’t been monetized that your fans may want. That’s what’s so great about fantasy, it was a product already that had the guts for and the technology built by our great digital media department.

Vala:   

You worked with SAP on that.

Michelle:        

(19:51) Yes, SAP did a piece of the fantasy it’s the sort of player comparison tool, so think of it like you are trying to decide between two players to draft you can go in and compare players on the fly and pick your best. So it is like your own adviser if you are drafting a team.

(20:15) So lots of companies are interested in the B2B aspect like SAP for fantasy, and then companies like Horizon for NFL Mobile we have made the fantasy product this year more mobile than ever. They can watch, participate, trade from their mobile devices.

Vala:   

(20:39) I have to ask you’re driving these digital transformations within the NFL and you are collaborative CIO thought leader and you are also social. I see you on twitter, you are active and accessible. What motivates you to speak to fans, just about anybody. I see people who ask questions on twitter and you respond and like one of the most extraordinary CIOs and is totally accessible to anyone.

Michelle:        

(21:06) I think if you’re not it would be boring and I think I found and no knock to the energy industry so it wasn’t the most fun talking to your customers about electric bills and I didn’t realise how important that was to me until I took a sort of a short break from it.

(21:27) I have been talking to guests my entire career at Disney at universal, and then I did this two years at Constellation and there wasn’t that sort of one-to-one relationship.

So when I got to the NFL I think it’s the power of the brand to connect. Our fans care so much, even when they are being critical and the reason they are being critical is that they care so much and what a great place to be. And as being a CIO and I think what a CIO is that has been defined and redefined many times and I became a CIO in the IT field in the late 90s when the Internet was really just picking up.

(22:20) I came from finance marketing sales and product development and that was my background, and I love the marriage of the two and that’s why I do it. I have two teenagers as children as well. My daughter is 16 and ageing in high school and my son is an entering freshmen, so they keep me engaged socially if nothing else to watch what they are up to.

Michael:         

(22:47) So in a sense as a CIO for the NFL you are the steward of that fan relationship and from the point of view of how can you apply technology to deepen that relationship.

Michelle:        

(23:02) Right, we’ve got a great direct marketing and CRM department obviously that relies on data and tools and that is a huge partnership. My job at Disney for many years was working on the CRM implementation so I spent a bit of time with the marketing department who worked on that.

(23:22) We have a club business development team that partners with clubs on the fan experience and they bring new business deals all the time, like this club is looking at this deal and that deal and I get to weigh in on the feasibility and how it would work and impact our fans.

(23:40)Yeah, I love being able to getting plugged into a variety of ways, and when you are new to a company, I think this is good advice for CIOs if you move around and if you look at the shelf life of a CIO in an organisation is often one of the shortest positions and I think that is because you typically drive change, and if you don’t drive it the right way collaboratively and coming from the point of view of your customer it is a recipe for a short job.

(24:11) So because I didn’t really know anyone at the NFL when I started inside the walls of the NFL, the best place I could think of to start was the fans. I mean I knew what a fan was like because I was a fan.

Michael :        

(24:22) So putting the fan at the center. Now we have about just five minutes left and we have spoken a lot about the fan experience, but you are doing a lot of technology on the field, literally on the field.

Vala:   

(24:37) I saw your tweets of Eli Manning holding as tablet and it looks awfully like the one you are holding in your hand.

Michelle:        

(24:43) It’s a little bit different than this one because we have to make the one on the field to be able to be thrown or dropped or kicked.

(24:56) Yes, this year in partnership with Microsoft and their sideline sponsorship rolled out the Surface our players and coaches can review the plays on a Surface device. They can look up a club and they can annotate on top of them and so we are breaking new ground and working out the teams in the preseason.

(25:17)  Also on the field this year you will see our referees and officials wearing wireless headsets and they are communicating with each other and with our headquarters, our command centre to continue to prove the consistency of officiating. And all so now, instant replay when they go under the hood will also be re-viewing it in New York for the first time.

(25:43) So that is a lot to put on the field in one year and it required us before this year that we didn’t have connectivity to send that kind of video back to the NFL, so it’s been a very short summer to get ready for the season.

Vala:   

(25:59) What advice to you have – I mean you are just from a digital transformation point of view are remarkable and you are doing this fantastic work. What advice do you have to CIOs and again lots of CIOs watch the show and not all, but it’s a challenge to transform the business and to beat mobile and social, Cloud, apps, big data, wearable’s, and fit bits and new processes and Internet things. So if you could just share your advice to our audience it would be greatly appreciated.

Michelle:        

(26:34) I think what I would say is that you first have to realise that you are not in control any more. If you ever work control, which was probably in your own head anyway, but if you thought you were in control you aren’t. So, you have to learn how to enable and not be a barrier to progress. And then you have to be willing to innovate and fail. You have to try things and yes, we have got this tablet on the sideline. It wasn’t perfect the last few weeks and we had a few things go wrong. But you have to be willing to be tolerant of that and you have to work with the organisation that is tolerant in that.

Michael:         

So shorter iterations cycles.

Michelle:        

(27:16) Shorter iteration and then embracing shadow IT. I mean if we look back over the years you have to embrace shadow IT, there is not enough IT people in this world to roll out the technology that your customer’s demand, so you had better find some shadow IT.

Michael:         

(27:35) But doesn’t that kind of fly in the face of what a CIO was trained, so how do you make that. It sounds easy but there has to be challenges.

Vala:   

By the way whether it is Kim Stevenson of Intel, we just had the CIO of McAfee, the CIO of Dell, some of these extraordinary CIOs we have had on our show, they all say what you have just said. A collaborative CIO, you shadow IT has an opportunity to learn and enhance their services.

Michael:         

Because that’s what the business wants.

Michelle:        

(28:07) Yeah, I think it does fly in the face of how we have been classically trained, but I think what that says is that we had better change how we classically trained people. I mean, I think that’s what it says and if you haven’t adapted to that - and sometimes if you were to work for say, the Department of defense or how much shadow IT can you have. Well, there is a much bigger risk, so you have to manage risk and not locked down assets and that’s the difference. I think it is to make it as safe as possible, which certainly everybody wants to be as safe as possible. But it is more about managing the risks. So if I can allow and it is low risk to the overall enterprise, and helps see along the business process, I can get it in my pipeline but they have found a partner, consultant or vendor or whoever, and as long as I give them the tools and there is a process to check.

(29:07) Look, we have had some bumps in the road you can’t open the door totally wide open, but at the end of the day you cannot control everything. My success is only reflected based on to how my customers are successful and when you start thinking about that that’s how it works.

Vala:   

(29:28) Extraordinary advice and National Football League is lucky to have you.

Michelle:        

Thank you and I’m lucky to be here.

Michael:         

(29:36) And it’s interesting how we are talking about the fan experience, you are putting the customer at the centre and when we are talking about internal IT, you are putting the internal customer right at the centre

Michelle:        

Absolutely, that’s what it’s about.

Michael:         

(29:53) On that note that is great to end on that note, and you have been watching episode number 74 of CXOTalk and our guest has been Michelle McKenna-Doyle, who is the CIO of the National Football League.

Vala:   

Can we fist bump.

Michelle:        

We can

Vala:   

A great show thank you very much.

Michelle:        

Thank you for having me.

Michael:         

Thank you for watching and we’ll see you next time bye bye.