Basketball at its core is a low-tech sport: you only need one ball and two baskets. Of course, a simple game gets more complicated when you add live nationwide broadcasting, thousands of fans, and terabytes of data. Kevin Naylor, vice president of IT at Pacers Sports & Entertainment, talks to Sync about the technology behind running an NBA arena.
Sync: Describe the IT operation at Pacers Sports & Entertainment.
Kevin Naylor: We are a very small shop. We are four individuals, including myself, and we support over 220 users, the Indiana Fever, the Indiana Pacers, and every other event in the Bankers Life Fieldhouse. There’s a lot to do and a lot to support. I wear a lot of different hats.
Sync: A lot of tech professionals are seeing their roles shift from a support function to a service function. Is that something you have seen in your position?
Naylor: Definitely. The three areas I’m pushing are MIA: mobility, innovation, and agility. Accordingly, we made the decision to move to Box cloud storage. I’m hopeful that in the next year the majority of my users will have moved all their data off into the cloud and we won’t be backing up terabytes of data. My goal is to eventually have my primary location be off-site and then have a replicated data system at another colocation. We are reducing our support cost and refocusing on service by pushing storage out to the cloud.
Sync: During your time with the Pacers, how have the technology requirements of a sports arena evolved?
Naylor: Cellular and WiFi have become very important. We’re currently working with SignalShare to refresh WiFi in the building, as well as the cellular with a neutral hosted distributed antenna system (DAS) from ExteNet Systems. Our users are taking huge amounts of pictures, uploading videos, and posting statuses that are specifically about our product: the Pacers, the Fever, and the Fieldhouse. So cellular and WiFi are now a commodity. People expect it, but users don’t always understand that high-density WiFi is extremely different from a home or a coffee shop connection. In our arena, they’re sharing that connection with thousands of other people.
To help meet that demand, we’re executing a robust infrastructure upgrade here in the building. We’re replacing all the fiber in the building and upgrading to Avaya’s switching technology. This will equip us with a 10-gig connection between every closet in addition to the installation of two 40-gig connections between our main switching cores. We will now have dual-redundant, load-balanced 10-gig Internet pipes coming in the building.
Seating capacity of Bankers Life Fieldhouse
Estimate of fans utilizing the WiFi system in the arena network during any given event
Events held annually at the fieldhouse
Increase of Pacers network after infrastructure upgrades are completed
Sync: What value do you gain by providing that service to the fans?
Naylor: The more fans that connect to our system while they’re in the building, the more opportunities we have to stay connected with those individuals after they leave. Umbel is a really cool tool, which captures Facebook data on our fans, and then allows us to run analytics across that data. Those fans who choose to enter their Facebook credentials allow us to access their likes and other information that they have. It’s amazing what Umbel can tell us about our fan base from the little bit that they pull from the end user.
Sync: On game day, what’s going on behind the scenes that a fan might not see?
Naylor: The league IT requirements have evolved from season to season. We have just completed a huge upgrade to HSAN 2 (high-speed arena network). There are dual-redundant 10-gig pipes that connect every arena to the NBA’s data center in Secaucus, New Jersey. All of the statistics data and all of the video feeds are sent directly to Secaucus, which handles all video replay directly.
There is also a multitude of equipment that we use for each production: equipment on the scorers table, public relations distribution systems, a videophone for pregame and postgame interviews, photo areas, media areas, broadcast trucks, SportVU software—which pulls analytic data from player movements on the floor, and the full integration of our ANC video and ribbon boards throughout the building. There is a lot that goes into a game production that people just don’t realize.
Sync: And that all has to come together to present that seamless live experience for the fans. What is it like handling all of that live?
Naylor: We do it. Once you’ve done so many of them, it becomes routine. You get used to the pressure. We always have backups—contingency plans.
Sync: I’ve read that the Pacers have incorporated Google Glass Technology from CrowdOptic.
Naylor: Our VP of marketing, Rob Laycock, is always looking for ways to increase fan interaction and the social experience. This is one of those ways we continue to push innovation and technology. So last year, we were one of the first teams to deploy Google Glass. Sometimes we’re able to get it at the scorer’s table or put it on a player during warm up. We want to promote fan interaction. It’s all of those different perspectives that you’re providing that the fan wouldn’t necessarily see sitting up in the balcony.
Sync: The Bankers Life Fieldhouse hosts more than 200 events every year. What does that require from an information technology perspective?
Naylor: It all depends on the specific event. One group in particular that we’ve developed a relationship with is the WWE. They typically come in three or four times a year. We carve out a flat network for them and then provide them with Internet. We’ve also hosted the Big Ten Conference Championships for men and women. We’ve done the Women’s NCAA Final Four. We even built a pool here for the FINA World Aquatics Championships several years ago.
Sync: You have what many consider a dream job. What’s your take?
Naylor: I always tell people that God has a sense of humor, because when I was growing up, I wanted to be in the NBA. Sometimes you think the dream is over, but thirty years later, here I am working in the NBA, for the home team that I grew up loving. And I’m doing IT, which is what I love. The amazing thing is when you get to sit at draft night and two feet in front of you is Larry Bird and other individuals you admire. So yeah, sometimes I do have to pinch myself.