How the NFL and Las Vegas worked with Extreme Networks to prepare for the Super Bowl

This syndicated post originally appeared at Zeus Kerravala – SiliconANGLE.

Super Bowl LVIII on Sunday, with the Kansas City Chiefs beating the San Francisco 49ers, was a nail-biter. These two teams were the best the NFL had to offer, and they were good for several reasons – good players and sound game plans — but one thing both teams have in common is that they are well-prepared.

Careful preparation was just as crucial behind the scenes. Unlike other events, the Super Bowl presents a logistical challenge for the hosting city. Even for Las Vegas, which is used to hosting big events, the Super Bowl is unique. For the NFL, it’s an ongoing race without a finish line.

Aaron Amendolia, deputy chief information officer for the NFL, and Rishma Khimji, CIO for Harry Reid International Airport, discussed their preparation for Super Bowl LVIII in a recent webinar hosted by Norman Rice, chief commercial officer at Extreme Networks.

The discussion was an intriguing view into how the organizations grappled with the technical challenges presented by the influx of roughly 400,000 fans into Las Vegas for the game. While Taylor Swift’s challenging journey from Japan to Allegiant Stadium grabbed the headlines, the NFL and the team at Harry Reid faced many more hurdles.

Khimji said her organization preps for the Super Bowl every year because people flock to Las Vegas whether or not they’re hosting the game. And her goal remains the same. “We want to make sure that there’s a seamless journey,” she said. “You get off the plane, you might have to go get some baggage, you get your baggage, you’ve got to get transportation to your hotel, casino resort or wherever you’re going.”

Las Vegas had a good dry run to prepare for the Super Bowl when F1 came to the Strip on Nov. 18, 2023. “F1 was a great experience for us,” she said. “It allowed us to really hone in on our planning to support larger amounts of passengers coming through the airport that increased traffic.”

But even with F1 under its belt, Las Vegas was a new Super Bowl city, which brings unique, if familiar, challenges to the NFL, according to Amendolia.

“Every time we go to a new city, we have to work with what that city brings as far as talent, technology, and the landscape, the environment,” he said. “Vegas is different — everything is unique. And we have to try to make this feel cohesive and connect that fan experience with our OnePass app and how we engage fans digitally.”

But it doesn’t end there. Many other groups, including the teams themselves as well as the media and international and domestic broadcasters, have very specific tech needs. And the planning for the weekend starts well ahead — two years ahead.

“We used to have shorter planning cycles,” he said. “They became much longer because of all the technology and the interconnected nature that we need onsite — and the birth of cloud technology becoming the mainstay and making sure that our risk and resiliency plans are that strong throughout the event.”

For Extreme Networks Inc., the presence of Taylor Swift in the stadium was a familiar sight. Rice said the Eras Tour concerts, many of which happened in NFL venues, rivaled the Super Bowl for engagement and data consumption. So, he asked Amendolia what happens when those two data-hungry worlds collide.

“I thought: This is my team’s opportunity to show Taylor Swift something, show her: ‘Look how much data the Super Bowl moves,’” Amendolia said. “So I feel like Taylor is going to get great WiFi service in the stadium, she’s going to have great cell service around the perimeter, and we’re going to show her how it’s done.”

For Khimji, preparing for the Super Bowl was all about resiliency. “We’ve got great backups, we’re utilizing the cloud where we need to, we’re utilizing segmented systems where we need to,” she said. “We’ve got a great segmented network with this beautiful mesh that Extreme has helped us develop here at the airport. That really allows us to have that resiliency and redundancy built in so that we are not down.”

Even with Las Vegas only a few days away (the webinar was recorded pre-Super Bowl), Amendolia was thinking about New Orleans, San Francisco and Los Angeles — cities that will host the big game in the coming years.

“So, now you’re thinking — as a CIO as a CTO — the technology is all going to change,” he said. “Four years out is a long time in technology, so we can’t specify specific technology metrics or goals. What we have to do is look at projecting capacity forward.”

He added that the partnership with Extreme has been a key to building for the future. Planning and great technology were the keys to Extreme Networks winning the Super Bowl from a network perspective with its tight partnerships with the NFL and Harry Reid International Airport.

Author: Zeus Kerravala

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long term strategic advice.