Management lessons from the Super Bowl

A once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Super Bowl provides lessons for IT leaders about super technology and not-so-super execution.

Super Bowl 53 is ready to make digital data history

About two weeks ago I received a phone call from my dad: "What do you think about going to the Super Bowl next weekend?" It certainly wasn't something I expected, especially as the game was mere days away. My dad is a long-time New England Patriots fan, and a game in Atlanta was positioned between our two homes and offered a promise of much better weather than last year's game in Minnesota. A few hours later, and some well-timed hotel booking and logistics were set; we were going to the Super Bowl.

Super Bowl tech, with not-so-super execution

As one would expect, the game was rampant with sponsors. In particular, payment card issuer Visa was a prominent sponsor and promoted their "tap to pay" technology. The company's logo was prominently featured on signs at the game and events around the game, and there were even special checkout lines in the various merchandise shops for Visa cardholders as well as people providing instruction and demonstration on how to use tap to pay.

SEE: How the NFL and its stadiums became leaders in Wi-Fi, monetizing apps, and customer experience (TechRepublic free download)

This was impressive; however, nearly every merchant was either understaffed at the checkout aisles, or undertrained on how to operate the payment terminals, which seemed to have been deployed especially for the game.

Having spent some time on projects that involved consumer payment technology, I realize that it's a wildly complex technology problem. This was surely the case with the game, where hundreds of pop-up vendors--from massive merchandise stores in a convention center to mobile beer sellers--descended on the city and required secure connectivity, terminals, power, scanners, and all the accouterments required to process payments. While the technology seemed to work fine, lines grew long, and customers seemed universally frustrated as checkout staff, often with prominent Visa logos on their uniform, struggled to operate the terminals.

Much of the incredible technology, likely regarded as the "hard part" of the problem, was negated by poor planning and training, and I heard more than a few customers expressing their frustration at Visa in particular since their brand was so prominently associated with payments at the game.

The power of policy

On the other side of the coin, the entire Atlanta area was rife with friendly people supporting the event. Atlanta volunteers stood on every downtown street corner, wishing people well, providing directions, or simply welcoming them to the city. The thousands of security staff, presumably largely temporary hires for the event, were friendly, pleasant, and happy to help visitors to such an extent that everyone I spoke with about the game remarked on the pleasantness of the staff.

SEE: Vendor relationship management checklist (Tech Pro Research)

The other notable and much-mentioned aspect of the game was concession pricing at the stadium. Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta is a beautiful stadium that's less than two years old and, like most modern professional sports venues, filled with all manner of restaurants, food stands, and bars. Apparently, the stadium is known for its reasonable prices on food and drink for regular sporting events, and a conscious decision was made not to raise prices for the Super Bowl. Despite being secure in the knowledge that attendees paid a high price for tickets, there was no gouging on food and drink.

I later remarked on this to a colleague that lives in Atlanta, and he mentioned that the stadium did significant research when it opened in 2017 and determined that people spend more on concessions overall when the prices are at reasonable levels. Not only was the policy fan-friendly and made out-of-town visitors feel like they were welcomed and not being taken advantage of but apparently, it was also economically beneficial to the stadium.

As technology leaders, it's easy to assume that the bits and bytes should be our sole focus. Despite most IT leaders acknowledging the importance of training and human considerations, too often it's left as afterthoughts or provided such trivial funding and time that it's clear the rhetoric around its importance is miles away from reality. However, these human and policy factors can often make or break the perceived success of a technology project, to the point that even if a technology is successfully executed, it can be perceived as a failure by the end user, negating the hard work and money spent in implementing it.

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Image: CBS

By Patrick Gray

Patrick Gray works for a leading global professional services firm, where he helps companies rapidly invent and launch new businesses. He is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companio...