Podcast: Ryder Cup sets benchmark for mobile at sporting events
[Editor's note: This podcast was originally published on Sept. 5, 2018.]
One of the most prestigious events in the sports world, the Ryder Cup tournament between European and U.S. golf players this year is expected to draw some 250,000 live spectators and a host of high-profile sponsors.
To ensure a “frictionless” user experience—and generate a wealth of data for event organizers and marketers—Ryder Cup CTO Michael Cole must consider a unique set of requirements in building a digital architecture that enables 24/7 connectivity across a highly distributed environment.
Listen to this podcast to learn how Cole and his team are approaching this extreme use case—and setting the technology standard for live sporting events.
Dana Gardner: Hello, and welcome to the next edition of Hewlett Packard Enterprise's Voice of the Customer podcast series. I’m Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, your host and moderator for this ongoing discussion on digital transformation success stories.
Our next extreme use case interview examines how an edge-computing Gordian Knot is being sliced through innovation and pluck at a prestigious live sporting event. We will now hear how the 2018 Ryder Cup golf match between European and U.S. players is placing a unique combination of requirements on its operators.
As a result, the IT solutions needed to make the Ryder Cup better than ever for its 250,000 live spectators and sponsors will set a new benchmark for future mobile sports tournaments.
Here to describe the challenges and solutions for making the latest networks and applications operate in a highly distributed environment is Michael Cole, chief technology officer for the European Tour and Ryder Cup. Welcome, Michael.
Michael Cole: Thank you.
Michael Cole, European Tour and Ryder Cup
Gardner: What is the Ryder Cup, set for September 2018 near Paris, for those who might not know?
Cole: The Ryder Cup is a biannual golf event, contested by teams representing Europe and the United States. It is without doubt the most prestigious team event in golf and arguably the world’s most compelling sporting contest in the world. As such, it really is our blue-ribbon event and requires a huge temporary infrastructure to serve 250,000 spectators—over 50,000 super-fans every day of the event—but also media, journalists, players, and their entourages.
Gardner: Why do you refer this as blue-ribbon? What is it about the U.S. versus Europe aspect that makes it so special?
Cole: It’s special for the players, really. These professionals play the majority of their schedule in the season as individuals. The Ryder Cup gives them the opportunity to play as a team—and that is special for the players. You can see that in the passion of representing either the United States or Europe.
Gardner: What makes the Ryder Cup such a difficult problem from this digital delivery and support perspective? Why are the requirements for a tournament-wide digital architecture so extreme?
Cole: Technology deployment in golf is very challenging. We have to bear in mind that every course essentially is a greenfield site. We very rarely return to the same course on two occasions. Therefore, how you deploy technology in an environment that is 150 acres large—or the equivalent of 85 football pitches—is challenging. And we must do that as a temporary overlay for four days of operation, or three days for the Ryder Cup, operationally leading in, deploying our technology and then bumping out very quickly onto the next event.
We typically deploy up to five different infrastructures: one for television; another for the tournament television big digital screens in the fan zones on the course; the scoring network has its own infrastructure; the public Wi-Fi, and, of course, we have the back-of-house operational IT infrastructure as well. It’s a unique challenge in terms of scale and complexity.
Gardner: It also exemplifies the need for core data capabilities that are deeply integrated with two-way, high-volume networks and edge devices. How do you tie the edge and the core together effectively?
Data delivery leads the way
Cole: The technology has a critical role to play for us. We at the European Tour lead the transformation in global golf—very much putting in data at the heart of our sports to create the right level of content and insight for our key stakeholders. This is critical.
For us, this is about adopting the Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) Intelligent Edge network and approach, which ensures the processing of data, location-based services, and the distribution of content that all takes place at the point of interaction with our key stakeholders—i.e., at the edge and on the golf course.
Gardner: What do you mean by location services as it pertains to the Ryder Cup? How challenging is that to manage?
Cole: One of the key benefits that the infrastructure will provide is an understanding of people and their behavior. So, we will be able to track the crowds around the course. We will be able to use that insight in terms of behaviors to create value—both for ourselves in terms of operational delivery, but also for our sponsors by delivering a better understanding of spectators and how they can convert those spectators into customers.
Big BYOD challenges
Gardner: This is also a great example of how to support a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) challenge. Spectators may prefer to use their cellular networks, but those aren’t always available in these particular locations. What is it about the types of devices that these fans are using that also provides a challenge?
Cole: One of the interesting things that we recently found is the correlation between devices and people. So whilst we are expecting more than 51,000 people per day at the Ryder Cup, the number of devices could easily be double or triple that.
Typically, people these days will have two to three devices. So, when we consider the Ryder Cup week [in September] and the fact that we will have more than 250,000 people attending, it’s even more devices. This is arguably the biggest BYOD environment on the planet this year, and that’s a challenge.
Gardner: What are you putting in place so that the end-user experience is what they expect?
Cole: I use the term frictionless. I want the experience to be frictionless. The way they on-board, the way they access the Wi-Fi—I want it to be seamless and easy. It’s critical for us to maximize the number of spectators using the Wi-Fi infrastructure. It equally becomes a source of data and is useful for marketing purposes. So the more people that we can get onto the Wi-Fi, convert them into registering, and then receiving promotional activity—for both us and our partners—that’s a key measure of success.
Gardner: What you accomplish at the Ryder Cup will set the standard for going further for the broader European Tour. Tell us about the European Tour and how this sets the stage for extending your success across a greater distribution of golfing events.
Cole: This is without doubt the biggest investment that the European Tour has made in technology, and particularly for the Ryder Cup. So it is critical for us that the investment becomes our legacy as well. I am very much looking forward to having an adoption of technology that will serve our purposes, not only for the Ryder Cup, not only for this year, but in fact for the next four years, until the next Ryder Cup cycle.
For me it’s about an investment in a quadrennial period and serving those 47 tournaments each year, and making sure that we can provide a consistency and quality beyond the Ryder Cup for each of our tournaments across the European Tour schedule.
Gardner: And how many are there?
Cole: We will run 47 tournaments in 30 countries, across five continents. Our down season is just three days. So we are operationally on the go every day, every week of the year.
Gardner: Many of our listeners and readers tend to be technologists, so let’s dig into the geek stuff. Tell us about the solution. How do you solve these scale problems?
Golf in a private cloud
Cole: One of the critical aspects is to ensure that data is very much at the heart of everything we do. We need to make sure that we have the topology right and that topology clearly is underpinned by the technological platform. We will be adopting a classic core distribution and access approach.
For the Ryder Cup, we will have more than 130 switches. In order to provide network ubiquity and overcome one of our greatest challenges of near 100 percent Wi-Fi coverage across the course, we will need 700 access switches. So this has scale and scope, but it doesn’t stop there.
We will essentially be creating our own private cloud. We will be utilizing the VMware virtual platform. We will have a number of on-premises servers, and that will be configured across two network corporation centers, with full resiliency and duplicity between the two.
Having 100 percent availability is critical for my industry and delivery of golf across the operational period of three days for Ryder Cup or four days of a traditional golf tournament. We cannot afford any downtime—even five minutes is five minutes too much.
Gardner: Just to dwell on the edge technology, what is it about the Aruba technology from HPE that is satisfying your needs, given this extreme situation of hundreds of acres and hilly terrain and lots of obstacles?
Cole: Golf is unique because it’s a greenfield site, with a unique set of challenges. No two golf courses are the same in the world. The technology platform gives us a modular approach. It gives us the agility to deploy what is necessary where and when we need.
And we can do this with the HPE Aruba platform in a way that gives us true integration, true service management, and a stack of applications that can better enable us to manage that entire environment. That includes through the basic management of the infrastructure to security and on-boarding for the largest BYOD requirements on the planet this year. And it’s for a range of services that we will integrate into our spectator app to deliver better value and smarter insights for our commercial family.
Gardner: Tell us about Michael Cole. How did your background prepare you for such a daunting undertaking?
Cole: My background has always been in technology. I spent some 20 years with British Telecom. More recently, I moved into the area of sports and technology, following the London 2012 Olympics. I then worked for technology companies for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. I have supported technology companies for the PyeongChang [South Korea] 2018 Winter Games, and also for the up and coming 2020 Tokyo Games, as well as the Pan American Games.
So I have always been passionate about technology but increasingly passionate about the use of technology in sports. What I bring to the European Tour is the broader insight around multinational global sports and events and bringing that insight into golf.
Gardner: Where is the Ryder Cup this year?
Cole: It’s being held just outside Paris at Versailles, at Le Golf National. And there’s a couple of things I want to say on this. It's the first time that the European Tour has been held in Europe outside of the United Kingdom since 1997 at Valderrama in Spain.
The other interesting aspect, thinking about my background around the Olympics, is actually Le Golf National is the venue for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games—in fact, where the event of golf will be held. So, one of my key objectives is to create a compelling and sustainable legacy for those games in 2024.
Gardner: Let’s fast-forward to the third week of September 2018. What will a typical day in the life of Michael Cole be like as you are preparing and then actually executing on this?
Test-driven tech performance
Cole: Well, there is no typical day. Every day is very different, and we still have a heavy schedule on our European Tour, but what is critical is the implementation phase and the run in to the Ryder Cup.
My team was on site to start the planning and early deployment some six months ago, in February. The activity now increases significantly. In the month of June, we took delivery of the equipment on site and initiated the Technology Operations Center, and in fact, the Wi-Fi is now live.
We also will adopt one of the principles from the Olympics in terms of test events, so we will utilize the French Open as a test event for the Ryder Cup. And this is an important aspect to the methodology. But equally, I am very pleased in the way that we are working with our partner, HPE, and its range of technology partners. In fact, we have adopted an eight-phase approach through staging, through design, and through configuration off site, on site. We do tech rehearsals.
So, the whole thing is very structured and methodical in terms of the approach as we get closer to the Ryder Cup in September.
Gardner: We have looked at this through the lens of technology uniqueness and challenge. Let’s look at this through the lens of business. How will you know you have succeeded through the eyes of your sponsors and your organization? It seems to me that you are going to be charting new ground when it comes to business models around location, sporting, spectators. What are some of the new opportunities you hope to uncover from a business model perspective?
Connect, capture, create
Cole: The platform has three key aspects to it, in my mind. The first one is the ability to create the concept of a connected golf course—a truly connected course, with near 100 percent connectivity at all times.
The second element is the ability to capture data, and that data will drive insights and help us to understand behavioral patterns of spectators on the course.
The third aspect, which is really the answer to your question, is how we utilize that intelligence and that insight to create real value for our sponsors. The days of sponsors thinking activation was branding and the hospitality program are long gone. They are now far more sophisticated in their approach, and their expectations are taken to a new level. And as a rights holder, we have an obligation to help them be successful in that activation and achieve their return on investment.
Moving from a spectator to a lead, to a lead to a customer, from customer to an advocate is critical for them. I believe that our choice of technology for the Ryder Cup and for the European Tour will help in that journey. So it’s critical in terms of the value that we can now deliver to those sponsors and not just meet their expectations but exceed their expectations.
Gardner: Being a New Englander, I remember well in 1999 when the Ryder Cup was in Brookline, Massachusetts, at The Country Club. I was impressed not only by the teams from each continent competing, but it also seemed like the corporations were competing for prestige, trying to outdo one another from either side of the pond in how they could demonstrate their value and be part of the pageantry.
Are the corporations also competing, and does that give them a great platform to take advantage of your technology?
Collaborate and compete
Cole: Well, healthy competition is good, and if they all want to exceed and compete with each other that can only be good news for us in terms of the experience that we create. But it has to be exceptional for the fans as well.
So collaboration and competition, I think, are critical. I believe that any suite of sponsors needs to operate both as a family, but also in terms of that healthy competition.
Gardner: When you do your postmortem on the platform and the technology, what will be the metrics that you will examine to determine how well you succeeded in reaching and exceeding their expectations? What are those key metrics that you are going to look for when it’s over?
Cole: As you would expect, we have a series of financial measurements around merchandizing, ticket revenues, sponsorship revenue, etc. But the technology platform now gives us the capability to go far beyond that. Critical to success will be the satisfaction—the satisfaction of spectators, the satisfaction of players, and the satisfaction of our commercial family.
Gardner: Let’s look to the future. Four years from now, as we know the march of technology continues—and it’s a rapid pace—more is being done with machine learning, with utilizing data to its extreme. What might be different in four years at the next Ryder Cup technologically that will even further the goals in terms of the user experience for the players, for the spectators, and for the sponsors?
Cole: Every Ryder Cup brings new opportunities, and technology is moving at a rapid pace. It’s very difficult for me to sit here and have a crystal ball in terms of the future and what it may bring. But what I do know is that data is becoming increasingly more fundamental to us.
Historically, we have always captured scoring for an event, and that equates to about 20,000 data points for a given tournament. We have recently extended it. We now capture seven times the amount of data, including for weather conditions, for golf club types, through lie of the ball, and yardage to the hole. That all equates to 140,000 data points per tournament.
Over a schedule, that’s 5.5 million data points. When we look at the statistical derivatives, we are looking at more than 2 billion statistics from a given tournament. And this is changing all of the time. We can now utilize IoT technologies to put sensors in anything that moves. If it moves, it can be tracked. If everything is connected, then anything is possible.
Gardner: It would be interesting to see how many sensors and how much more information and detail you can get in terms of the game of golf. It’s a very old game, but seemingly new aspects of enjoying it and viewing it continually are coming to the fore.
We will have to leave it there. We have been exploring how an edge-computing Gordian Knot is being sliced through via innovation and pluck at a prestigious live sporting event. And we have learned how the latest networks and applications will—across a massively distributed environment—make the 2018 Ryder Cup a digital masterpiece for its 250,000 live spectators.
Please join me in thanking our guest, Michael Cole, CTO of the European Tour and Ryder Cup. Thank you so much, Michael.
Cole: My pleasure. Thank you, indeed.
Gardner: And a big thank you as well to our audience for joining us for this Hewlett Packard Enterprise's Voice of the Customer digital transformation success story discussion. I’m Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, your host for this ongoing series of Hewlett Packard Enterprise-sponsored interviews.
This article/content was written by the individual writer identified and does not necessarily reflect the view of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.