A VAR's Tale: From Fan To Partner - Winning Business With An NHL Team12:52 PM EST Thu. Jan. 26, 2012
Michael Goldstein moved to Florida 16 years ago from New York and launched his own VAR business, LAN Infotech about three years ago. A huge sports fan, Goldstein still has very strong ties to New York teams, the Mets and Giants in particular. But one South Florida team grabbed his attention: the NHL's Florida Panthers.
Goldstein admits the Panthers are an unlikely choice to embrace for a favorite team in South Florida. After all, the Miami Heat have The Big Three and the Marlins have won a couple World Series in the last 15 years. The NFL's Dolphins have struggled the last few years, but at least they have decades of history and two Super Bowl trophies to reminisce about.
The Panthers? They haven't made the playoffs in 11 years and have qualified for postseason play only three times since joining the league in 1993-94.
But they've grabbed the heart of Goldstein, who's been a season ticket holder since moving there in 1996. Coincidentally, that's the year the Panthers made it to the Stanley Cup Final.
"We went to our first Panthers preseason game in 1996. I took my two older kids and we were down low. It was their first lower bowl exposure. [Ed] Jovanoski hit somebody right into the glass and the glass cracked. My kids were hooked on hockey from that. It was one of those unlikely seasons," Goldstein said.
This year, the team is experiencing its best year in a decade, tied for first place in the Southeast Division through Jan. 25.
"For years, we've believed in the Florida Panthers. We like that the organization gives back to the community. It's always a good family environment," Goldstein said.
Goldstein started doing IT work with the team at his former company, but when he launched LAN Infotech almost three years ago, he was determined to get in deeper with the team.
He hired one of the team's former IT staff and introduced himself to Panthers executives. About two years ago, the team lost some of its IT staff and decided to look at outsourcing some IT functions. Enter LAN Infotech.
"It was a combination of being proactive and this opening up. Everything worked out right for us," Goldstien said.
LAN Infotech made its pitch and won a deal to keep two employees onsite at the arena 40 hours a week managing the IT infrastructure for the team and the arena.
"We manage pretty much everything. We attend staff meetings, vendors contact us directly," Goldstein said.
LAN Infotech plays a key role helping the arena transform from one event to another. Earlier this month, Bob Seger performed in concert, which came with very specific requirements for Internet, phone connectivity and other infrastructure. Immediately after the concert, the VAR's staff went to work to prepare for the very different IT needs of a hockey game the next night.
Next: Not A 9-to-5 Job
"On an event day, we're getting everything ready. There are outdoor things, POS machines. On game days, the [Panthers] are a 150-200 person organization scattered across an arena. We have to deal with Ticketmaster, security, mobile device access," Goldstein said. "We also maintain a full-scale help desk [for the team and arena]. If someone's Outlook is not working, we're on that, and we supplement that back end with our managed services and full server infrastructure."
Sometimes, it's an even tighter schedule.
"One Friday night we had a hockey game from 7:30 to 10:30. The next day is NCAA basketball that starts at noon. We had to be back at 4 a.m. to convert everything. The press moves from the top of the arena to floor level and team practice starts at 8 a.m. The next day, we're back to a 5 p.m. hockey game," Goldstein said. "The venue is consistently changing. There are technical challenges and it's not a 9-to-5 kind of shop."
Gaining experience running Bank Atlantic Center, LAN Infotech hopes to expand to other arenas and stadiums, gaining an edge in a niche vertical market that has increasing IT needs.
"Every person wants cellular and WiFi connectivity now. People walk into games with two or three devices, including iPads. [Teams] try to keep up with technology," he said.
While some arenas offer free WiFi to attendees, Goldstein said the bandwidth challenges are still very difficult to overcome.
"We've concentrated on WiFi for the lines of business: ticketing, press. The last thing we want to do is put a product out there that isn't right and give fans a slow, bad experience. There's definitely a big push in that area though. I've been to Orlando to see some high tech stuff, and the Staples Center. But it's not fully there yet," he said.
Still, as a longtime fan of the team, Goldstein sees the best of both worlds: getting paid to be at the games.
"There's a lot of moving parts. As a business owner, you're always walking around, saying hello, doing things," he said. "We have employees scheduled to work the game. I do the walkaround to see the staff. You enjoy what's going on but you're conscious of making sure things are running."