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College Football Playoff COO talks changing technology landscape

Michael Kelly talks about how the College Football Playoff has expanded its technological footprint & the trends he sees in the sports scene at large.

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Michael Kelly was selected as the chief operating officer of the College Football Playoff in November 2012. Kelly previously served as senior associate commissioner for the ACC, overseeing broadcasting, communications and football. He is the only person ever to serve as lead local executive for three different Super Bowls in three different communities, having been president of the Super Bowl Host Committee in Tampa Bay (Super Bowl XXXV), Jacksonville (Super Bowl XXXIX) and South Florida (Super Bowl XLI). He also served as the executive director for the 1999 NCAA Men’s Final Four Local Organizing Committee.

Kelly spent four years on campus serving two intercollegiate athletic departments in roles as director of athletic operations and facilities at Wake Forest University and as associate athletic director for external affairs at the University of South Florida. In 2006, Kelly was named to the Sports Business Journal’s annual “Forty Under 40” list. 

Mark Burns: What utilization of technology in sports has recently blown you away and why?

Michael Kelly: 1) During their historic run to the pennant, the Chicago Cubs built a robust social experience, spanning high-level activation on every platform. From in-venue “social night,” to Snapchat filters, Instagram Stories and interaction with players, the Cubs want fans from those at Wrigley to those at home experiencing unique, behind-the-scenes events with and about the team. They have also found an extremely organic way to highlight their players far beyond the stat sheet with video content, spoofs, personal and family features, etc. 2) Twitter live-streaming of NFL Thursday night games and college games.

MB: If money were no object, what technology would you build or buy to help you do your job better?

MK: 1) Invest resources into a digital department; bring social, graphic design, website and app production in-house to have more direct and immediate control of our messaging. 2) An iPhone that would hold a charge for at least a week.

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MB: As a sports fan, what sports-related service, app, product, etc., could you not live without and why?

MK: 1) WatchESPN — allows me to watch games of all sports wherever I am. So user-friendly. 2) DragonFly — their apps, software and service have proven instrumental to allowing our Selection Committee to watch as many condensed games as possible of teams all over the country within hours. 3) Tunity — allows sports fans to be in most any public setting (restaurant, gym, etc.) and listen to the game.

MB: If you had to project 20 years into the future, how will most fans watch their favorite sports teams?

MK: 1) Virtual reality technology will continue to improve and change the way fans watch games. 2) Increased mobile presence. 3) Additional digital and mobile access will continue to expand and make the home-viewing experience change drastically. The proliferation of enhanced production offerings (Megacast, pylon cams, spider cams, etc.) and mobile technology will provide fans with the opportunity for a modern-day version of “Choose Your Own Adventure.”

MB: What are some of the ways in which the College Football Playoff and its participating stadiums have incorporated various forms of technology to enhance the student-athlete and fan experience?

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MK: The College Football Playoff has placed an emphasis on providing fans a variety of ways to engage and interact with the CFP brand, as well as the national championship game as an event.

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1) Since 2014, the live-streaming of news conferences and various events has been a priority for the CFP. With the evolution of streaming technology and platforms over the past two years, the CFP has adapted its strategy to ensure that fans have front-row access to these events via website and digital. In 2016, this included the shift to Facebook Live and Periscope as the primary means of streaming to fans. This has been very successful for the CFP, as a recent news conference saw an organic reach of over 1 million. For game week and game day, the CFP will continue to utilize live-streaming as an important means of engaging and interacting with fans and followers.

2) In 2016, the CFP launched an Augmented Reality (AR) Trophy Experience. Putting the trophy in the hands of fans across the country, cutting edge technology allows fans to interact and Snap photos with the trophy, share images on media and journey through past playoff highlights. During the regular season, fans across the country at 150-plus locations were able to access the experience. With the focus of the postseason shifting to the Playoff semifinals and the national championship game, the trophy experience continues to enhance the fan experience and allow people to be a part of the playoff in a unique way.

3) Following Selection Day, the CFP worked with Twitter to create a lineup of custom playoff-related Twitter emojis for the CFP and the semifinal teams. This is the second year of this activation, and the CFP has seen significant engagement by providing this social experience to fans.

4) Following the announcement of the Playoff semifinal teams in 2016, the CFP worked with YourMoji to launch a CFP emoji keyboard, featuring over 60 emojis that fans can use across various messaging and social media platforms. Available through the YourMoji app, the keyboard is available to Apple and Android users.

5) With focus shifting to game week and game day, the CFP uses a variety of technology and activations accessible to fans at the location of the national championship game. Launched in 2014, the official mobile app of the College Football Playoff, CFP Gameday, serves as the go-to source for information on fan events and the national championship game. In 2015, the CFP, in conjunction with SportsLabs, introduced iBeacon and geofencing technology as an added feature to the free mobile app. With this technology, fans receive specific messaging based on their location. This messaging serves to elevate the user’s experience, while providing important information and updates.

6) Launching in 2017, the CFP is excited to introduce the CFP Social Passport: Tampa Bay mobile app. Through the collaboration with Thuzi and the local organizing committee (TBSC), the CFP will encourage fans in the location of the national championship game to download the free mobile app once on-site in Tampa. Utilizing a fan rewards system, users will gain points and badges based on their participation in a variety of events at locations across Tampa Bay. Users will then be rewarded based on their total number of points, with prizes ranging from custom wristbands to national championship game tickets.

7) We are excited about the technological aspects of our host venues in 2018 and 2019 with Levi’s Stadium and Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The priorities each of these facilities place on technology were a big reason they were selected to host our game, and we are excited about the ways in which they make things so much easier to produce and to make the fan experience as good as it can possibly be. We challenge ourselves to be a best-in-class major event and these facilities will help us do that.

MB: Give us your bold prediction about a form of technology that will be integral to college athletics over the next 12 months and why?

MK: 1) The increased presence of Megacasts like ESPN has implemented during the various CFP games. Giving fans a variety of methods and vantage points from which to consume an event or game and raising the industry standard that standard broadcasts are no longer enough. 2) Technology advancements that will aid in evaluating injuries to aid in the safety and protection of players.