How technology services are helping the Chicago Bears navigate the future of IT

Overcome technological hurdles with trusted partners

With a small IT staff, it’s important for Stahl to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each member of his team. He needs to know where his skills can be used to advance initiatives and where an outside expert can fill in gaps. In some cases, the need for a partner’s help is just a numbers game: There are only a limited number of hours a day that IT staff are on duty, but some technologies require ongoing attention.

“We depend on third parties. Third-party surveillance is a big deal for us,” he says. “I have a small team, and they have to sleep at some point.”

In addition to working with partners like CDW, the Bears IT team also works with professionals from other NFL clubs as well as the league itself. On the field, teams compete for every yard, but collaborating with IT staff from other teams can help more clubs solve problems and implement best practices.

When a team finds an innovative approach to implementing new technology, the league as a whole is stronger when that approach is widespread. This collaboration can even extend beyond the NFL to include professional sports organizations in other leagues.

“We want to understand the innovations that are in the pipeline,” said Stahl. “We have a good network of teams from all sports and look at what other stadiums are doing, what other teams are doing.”

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Turning data into on-site success

One area Stahl is particularly keen to involve his team in is data analysis. In recent years, the NFL has been inundated with new data from sources such as sensors in player pads and helmets, as well as in soccer balls. By tracking the movements of these sensors, the league can measure every movement on the field 10 times per second.

“The validity of this data is amazing,” says Stahl. “We now have an opportunity to tell how open a wide receiver was to the tenth of a second when the ball was released by the quarterback. This is powerful data in terms of player ratings, opponent ratings and scouting.”

The NFL didn’t immediately share this data with teams, but has provided more information in recent seasons. While clubs waited for the data to arrive, some were able to prepare to use it.

The bears knew they had to hone their analytical skills to capitalize on the opportunity. But they didn’t know exactly how much data they would have to work with and what format it would take, so Stahl and his team focused on flexibility and scalability. Ultimately, the Bears deployed a hyper-converged infrastructure solution that enabled the club to rapidly scale its data analytics operations.

“We were one of the clubs that were very hungry for this data,” Stahl said. “When the NFL Competitions Committee voted to allow clubs to own sensor data, we were ready for it. And we were excited to use that as a competitive advantage.”

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