CRN Exclusive: ShoreTel CEO On How Sports Stadiums Are Winning With Technology And Why Partners Are Key To The Team

Technology Taking Over Stadiums

In working with the Golden State Warriors, Carolina Panthers and Boston Red Sox, ShoreTel knows a thing or two about the growing demand and trends for technology in the stadium market.

"Stadiums are trying to anticipate what your need is whether it's what you're thinking about from a merchandising perspective based on your past experience -- what you’ve been browsing [on your personal device] or where you like to sit or what you buy at the concession stand," said ShoreTel CEO Don Joos in an interview with CRN. "This is not simply just about technology and feature functionalities, it's also about the overall experience and that's where the channel plays such a key role in their brand."

Joos also talks to CRN about the marketing value of working with popular sports teams and what the stadium experience will look like in 10 years.

What are stadiums owner and major league teams ultimately trying to get out of technology in 2016?

What the stadium owners are looking for is, 'I want to gather as much data as I can about these users and then present to them what the most relevant thing is for that person at that moment in time. Through a learning process, I can then tailor that experience because that's what an individual loves.' They want to feel like they're getting that customized experience.

It's that someone is actually taking care of me like I'm a VIP and that's the experience we all love. So companies are able to bring this information together now with technology.

How important are channel partners in the grand scheme of the stadium market?

ShoreTel is an innovator of technology, but what the partner creates is the face for us. [Stadium owners] like it local. Partners have a local presence on-site and provide local support. They are the ones working more intimately with the organization to customize the solution. But it doesn’t stop with implementation.

Partners are there from a support mechanism perspective as [stadiums] need help or want to expand. Then the partner works with them to continue to evolve the solution to fit their ongoing business needs. They evolve with the organization as their business needs change.

Are channel partners needed when making a bid for a stadium deal?

Yes, because channel partners are an integral and critical part of the solution. At [the Boston Red Sox stadium] Fenway Park, Harbor Networks is the channel partner. They spend a lot of time getting to know the organization, understanding how the flow of business works, and then they're able to really customize that solution to fit the workflows.

Was Harbor Networks a major player in getting ShoreTel the Red Sox deal last year?

Absolutely. This is not simply just about technology and feature functionalities, it's also about the overall experience and that's where the channel plays such a key role in their brand as well as the ShoreTel brand. It is very much a joint effect.

Is Harbor Networks the only channel partner you use for the Red Sox?


We have on a worldwide basis over 1,000 business partners. Harbor Networks supports the [NBA's] Boston Celtics (pictured) and Red Sox, but a different business partner would support the [MLB's] Cleveland Indians or the San Francisco Giants, [the NFL's] Carolina Panthers, the Buffalo Bills, etc.

Because sports is so widely popular and heavily televised, do you think ShoreTel and Harbor Networks get marketing boosts?

The Red Sox and Fenway management is such a key part of the broader community in the Boston area. They have helped expand our brand and bring in all kinds of opportunities to us simply because of the network effect that they have. Within the broader business community, they help us with a lot of opportunities.

Do you see ShoreTel and other vendors having a major impact on the fan experience and the event itself in the future?

Absolutely. As I look into the future, we're creating an interactive fan experience whether that's through concession, merchandise or the game. There' [are] different interactions. People-to-people talking. People-to-machine, which is a lot of the interactive stadium experience, and machine-to-machine learns people's behaviors and then presents customized information to you.

These stadiums sound like they're becoming Internet of Things venues.

Stadiums are trying to anticipate what your need is whether it's what you're thinking about from a merchandising perspective based on your past experience. What you’ve been browsing [on your personal device] or where you like to sit or what you buy at the concession stand.

They can alert you and say, 'We know what you've done from a movement perspective, so I'll give you an alert when the lines are shorter at this particular concession stand.' Or 'Hey, we have a sale on merchandise that you seem to be looking at on a regular basis.' Or 'We know where you like to sit and there's opening in seats in areas where you typically like to sit within the stadium. You may be interested that there's some availability right now even though you haven't bought tickets yet.' Ultimately, what they're doing is trying to get you to buy more.

Do you think attendees want all this technology being implemented?

As a user, everyone wants to feel in the moment that they are the center of attention. Human beings love that. We want to have our 'rock star' moment. That is what we're looking for and the more tailored experience I have, the more special I feel. I don’t feel like I'm one of just the masses at a game anymore. That's what users are looking for as part of their experience; it's not just simply seeing a game.

It's letting you feel like when you came to our game, you got a VIP experience and that's what they want to create for that individual.

What is the criteria for stadiums when selecting a specific vendor's solution such as in the unified communications space?

A lot of it is through word-of-mouth, frankly. [Sports owners] all talk together because they share information. The owners share their spend, whether it be technology or marketing spending.

So when somebody has a [huge] change in improvement -- like a long time ago the San Francisco Giants did -- everyone in MLB wanted to know what it was. And the answer was ShoreTel. So just through word-of-mouth across sports teams everyone wanted to know how we could help them in optimizing their communications solutions in a cost-effective way.

Just like major league players move between teams, so does the IT staff that supports these organizations. So it becomes a great marketing engine for us.

What’s the difference between implementing a unified communications solution in a stadium compared to a large enterprise?

The big difference is understanding the workflow of the organization because, really, the ShoreTel solution integrates into the workflow. It's just really breaking it down to understanding the workflow and integrating it in.

There [are] actually a lot of similarities between sports teams and enterprises. In a large enterprise, you may have a lot of remote workers outside of their offices or you may have people on the road. Sports team are very similar. They have the main stadium as well as other venues – a spring training facility, for example -- and a lot of scouts who are on the road. So they all need a mobile solution to access their information in a normal way too.

Are there any differences between implementing a contact center solution in a stadium compared to an enterprise?

The two are also very similar with a contact center. [Enterprises] have a lot of inbound and outbound activity and so do stadiums because of their ticket sales, for example. So we need to be able to support those call flows.

Is there more competition in the stadium market in 2016 compared to five years ago?

There's a competitive landscape that just continues to evolve, but ShoreTel has developed a great footprint in the sports and entertainment industry. The word-of-mouth is also important because the teams are sharing information. So it has actually become easier for us because we have concrete evidence to show these companies how we have helped other teams solve their business problems in cost-effective ways. We get a great entry point into these.

What is the fan experience going to be like in 10 years in stadiums?

If you're in an enterprise and you're in a conference room, the conference room recognizes you have arrived and you have a meeting. So it automatically opens up the conference for you because it knows that's why you're there and it fires up the projector and brings up the desktop -- all because of machine-to-machine talking.

As you come into a stadium, I could see a very similar experience.

So a stadium will have your data history and know when you walk in -- how will it interact with you?

So we're going to start sharing information with you that is relevant to you because now we have a presence and can start to push relevant information and filter out the nonrelevant information.

The overarching [theme] is that your presence is now recognized in the environment and it can now start to be tailored to you. We're seeing more and more dynamic ways that that's being used on almost a daily basis. … Over a 10-year period, this fan experience is going to look drastically different just based on that single concept that we know you're in the stadium.

How are the sport teams using ShoreTel doing in their respective leagues?

There seems to be a strong correlation when implementing ShoreTel and winning championships.

When the San Francisco Giants became a customer, they very quickly won one of their three world championships. The Carolina Panthers in their last NFL season implemented the ShoreTel solution -- that same year, they go the Super Bowl. The Golden State Warriors, another customer, we implemented them and the following year they win the NBA championship. So in our conversation with the Red Sox, they're pretty excited right now on the odds of winning the World Series because they just implemented the solution here.