The Indianapolis Colts is easily the largest sports franchise in Indiana so it only seemed fitting to take a look inside the organization and try to better understand how technology is evolving their interactions with fans and adjusting the ways they manage the organization. I had the opportunity to sit down with my friend and colleague Dan Plumlee, Director of Digital Media at the Colts, to talk tech and get his thoughts on the technological landscape as he sees it.
It's a Monday evening when Dan and I arrive at a small bar in Lapel, Indiana to meet up and officially hold the interview. I picked him up from his house, swooping through his neighborhood on the way to our destination. The town of Lapel is a small one, sitting about 20 miles northeast of Indianapolis and is host to only two prominent bars; both happen to be located across the street from each other on the half-mile long main drag that goes through the center of town.
For tonight's series of pool, beer, and questions we settled on Mardi Gras, a vaguely Cajun-themed restaurant and bar known for college-town prices on beer and good pizza. There are only 2 other patrons in the place, not a big surprise for a Monday evening. As we settle in, one of the three regular bartenders, well-known to us by now, shoots us an inquisitive look that says, "What will it be?"
Two cold bottles of beer later, Dan and I are starting to unpack out pool cues. You see, Dan and I have played on various pool teams in the APA. He is considered pretty good in the league whereas I am certainly a more casual player - often translated as "not so good." As I am attaching the shaft of my cue to the base, I glance at Dan and, noticing the expectant look on my face, rolls his eyes a bit and says, "OK, shoot."
Q & A
How long have you been with the Indianapolis Colts?
Did you start at the Director of Digital Media?
No, I was actually initially hired as a Senior Developer, working on a new version of Colts.com and a few internal systems. I was in that position for 2 years at which time I moved to the I.T. department and worked with help desk as well as software development for our scouting department. It was during my time with I.T. that I was offered the position as Digital Media Director and I have been in that for 3 years now.
How has your department changed in the time you have been at the Colts?
How hasn’t it changed is perhaps a better question. It’s not a matter of turn-over, it’s been more a matter of people growing and moving on, combined with evolving technology trends, social media, and business in general. We have become a very streamlined and efficient department - a department that I am sure, if you asked, would be happy to have a few dozen extra employees, but we are a close knit group that works hard and has a lot of fun doing it.
What are some interesting projects that you have going on in Digital Media?
We just released an iPad version of our highly-successful mobile app. I am very excited to see where this additional avenue takes us with fan engagement and the game day experience both at home and in-stadium. We are also currently working on a loyalty program for our mobile app users that I hope to be releasing very soon.
Does that mean fans might start earning Colts swag?
Yes, as well as other greats prizes such as tickets, fan experiences, autographed items, and even season tickets.
OK, I will have to stay on top of that. Now, I understand that most, if not all, NFL team web sites are now on a common platform. Has that changed things for you and the team?
Correct. All 32 teams are now moved onto the central NFL platform. The initial move proved difficult in some aspects. When you go from a 100% customized and internal site to a more standardized and refined platform there are restrictions that can initially be frustrating. It felt a lot like the square peg, round hole adage. I can say the NFL has been wonderful with assisting in adapting the sites to the individual teams while maintaining standardization. The move to the platform was initiated when I took over as Director of Digital Media, so I cannot speak to how it’s changed things as a department. I can say that, as with anything new, it takes a while to adapt and I think we are 100% there.
Social media seems to play a big role in what the Colts are doing. You have several Twitter accounts and a very active Facebook page. What goes into that presence?
Social media is a huge for us. It’s one of our key elements to drive engagement to all our fans. We are extremely active with Facebook, Instagram, Google+, and, as you said, several Twitter accounts. Each and every one of the items I just mentioned requires individual thought and consideration with regards to delivering content; not only what is delivered, but also how it’s delivered.
We do our best to customize our fans experience. In many cases this means providing a look behind-the-scenes, making our fans not only feel a part of the team, but to see what it’s like to travel, prepare in the locker-room, celebrate a win, and grieve a loss. This is achieved by not only a terrific social media coordinator, but also an entire staff that is dedicated to listening to the fans and working hard to deliver on those requests.
Does the NFL work with team representatives such as yourself in forming the technology strategies that they roll out?
Yes they do. Not only does each team have a representative they deal with on a weekly basis for our individual sites, but we are all connected on Yammer (all 32 teams and our league reps). Using Yammer we can share our successes/failures, ask questions about the future, and sound off on the road mapping. We also have a yearly face-to-face summit meeting with all 32 teams and the NFL. This is a great time to discuss new and emerging things, and to determine the direction of the future.
What's the coolest new technology for you, personally?
I am amazed at what teams and companies are doing with augmented reality and 360 video. We are just scratching the surface of what we can offer fans. As a tech guy and sports fan, I think it has to be the coolest “next-big-thing” for the game-day experience.
That makes sense. Are you interested in Google Glass, then?
How could one not be! Honestly I would have owned a pair now if it hadn’t been for the season and trying to coordinate around Google’s schedule and the orientation. They are an expensive line item on your budget, but one word comes to mind when thinking of the possibilities with Google Glass, and that word is "WOW!" I think about not only a social media coordinator wearing them on game day, but the idea of putting them on a player, or Blue [the Colts mascot] or even the future of writing apps for Glass and the fans wearing them to enhance their game day experience.
It sounds creative, nerdy, and fun - I am excited! Do you consider yourself a geek, a nerd, or something else?
I guess I would have to call myself a geek. My main reason for that is that I read ahead on your interview questions…and that’s what you called me!
That's cheating - but not unexpected. What activities add to your geek credentials?
Playing video games, reading up on technology, writing code/apps for fun, going to midnight showings of Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. That sort of thing.
That definitely counts. What advice do you have for anyone entering the workforce with designs on working for an athletic organization?
In a broader sense I think too many people get the mentality of “no way I could ever get hired at "insert company name here", they are just too "insert adjective here.” As with anything else, if you want it bad enough you have to go for it - don’t make any assumptions!
Good advice and it has certainly worked for you! Last question: Can I have free tickets to the next game?
Get in line.
You can follow Dan through his adventures in technology, pool, vaping, and more via his Twitter feed (@dplumlee).