Cowboys building the high-tech future of NFL draft war rooms
Enjoy the Cowboys’ 2016 draft board, the one with little name placards on magnets that slide around on an old-school white board, because this will be the final year of it. Next year, the Cowboys will unveil the future of draft “war rooms” as part of the franchise’s August move into The Star in Frisco, a $1 billion, 510,000-square-foot office and training facility with a 12,000-seat indoor stadium and two outdoor practice fields.
“Believe it or not we are going to take the leap and be the first ones to go 100% digital,” Stephen Jones, Cowboys executive vice president, CEO and director of player personnel, tells SI.com. “It will be a high-tech room. I don’t think there will be anything like it for the moment.”
As part of the larger project on the 91-acre complex north of the Cowboys’ current facilities, the draft room will offer a new view into the franchise for fans visiting The Star.
“The draft is a big time of the year and something our fans love to wrap their arms around and embrace,” Jones says. “The Cowboys were the first team to have cameras in their war room. It was unprecedented at the time. It was supposed to be top secret, but we figured out you could give fans access and let them hang onto something without giving away secrets. We want this one to be something that is extra special. When fans come out to see The Star, they will want to see the war room and where the drama plays out. It will be fun for them to touch.”
With over 400,000 people coming to tour AT&T Stadium every year, the Cowboys wanted to “create another destination for our fans to have another entertainment aspect to touch and feel the Dallas Cowboys,” said Jerry Jones Jr., chief sales and marketing officer and executive vice president, about part of the vision behind The Star.
But what will they see? In the basic sense, the new war room will be a high-tech conference room, of course decked out in all things Dallas blue and with a prominent Cowboys star. The room itself “gets flooded pretty good on any given day leading up to the three weeks” before the draft, with as many as 50 people in and out. But Stephen says they plan to have around 40 in the room—20 to 25 coaches, 12 to 15 scouts and a handful of trainers and executives—at any one point.
The real starting point for high-tech design comes from the need for securing the digital data. “The information you are starting to compile, when you are really starting to put people in places, you don’t want that out and about,” Stephen says. “Security is a big deal.”
The new room will go fully paperless, from the big draft board to smaller bits of information accessed on laptops and tablets. In addition to the bandwidth to handle the stream of data and videos, the room will also have about six secure phones to interact with other teams, the league office, the draft location and prospective draftees.
From there, the Cowboys will put together a fully interactive video board at roughly 20 feet by seven feet to allow the group to crunch data and make decisions. On that screen, the staff can stream up to 16 different video application feeds for video of players, and display multiple draft boards in multiple different ways. And it’s all touchscreen. They will also have two additional 98-inch, 4K multi-touch displays on another wall, and the system will be able to run comparisons from past players to current players by playing videos of “similar workouts” side by side.
“Obviously it will have amazing video feeds and be fully interactive,” Stephen says. “We will have multiple things up there and [we can] stack them up by round or by position or how they are coming off the board, able to have all that up there and with a tap of the finger move them to where they should be placed.”
The future of the Cowboys’ war room includes linking back to their past. Binders full of paper scouting reports of players remain lodged in the facility. Part of building The Star as an entertainment destination includes designing the war room in a way where history takes center stage, such as by digitizing the Troy Aikman scouting report for fans to view.
“The amount of information has always been there, but how do you manage it in an efficient way?” Jerry Jr. asks about moving information to the modern age. “It is all very digitized and with video and workouts of players and scouting reports, we can now, with the touch of a finger, pull out a video interview of a player or the written report done by a scout coming from another system.”
“There is no question that it is very technology driven,” Stephen says. “It should be the best of the best of what’s available at the moment.”
With that, you can say goodbye to those paper name placards.
Tim Newcomb covers sports aesthetics—stadiums to sneakers—and training for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.