For Michael Israel, Chief Information Officer of The Kraft Group, a successful Sunday at Gillette Stadium doesn’t hinge on the final score. Whether the New England Patriots win or lose is out of Israel’s control; instead he is laser-focused on ensuring that everything behind-the-scenes at Gillette Stadium is operating seamlessly so that fans can enjoy the experience regardless of the outcome of the game.
As the CIO of The Kraft Group, the New England Patriots and Gillette Stadium is only one of the properties within Israel’s domain – but with 60,000+ fans in attendance at each home game (not to mention 220,000+ people over three nights for Taylor Swift!), the stakes are high and there is no room for error.
Which is why when Israel was tasked with developing the technological infrastructure for the largest renovation in Gillette Stadium’s history, he turned to Cisco and partner Acadia Technology Group to architect and implement the entire footprint. Acadia Technology Group, led by President Kevin Hynes, has more than two decades of experience with Cisco and has worked with The Kraft Group for the last 5 years. Israel relies heavily on the expertise and collaboration with both Acadia and Cisco to ensure that any issues are pinpointed, addressed and resolved as rapidly as possible.
Israel recently took us on a behind-the-scenes tour of Gillette Stadium to showcase what transpires off-the-field on a gameday, and how Cisco’s role as An Official Technology Partner is crucial to the entire operation.
Main Operations Center
The Main Operations Center in Gillette Stadium is the epicenter of information-gathering.
- Staffed with representatives from local, state and federal government, as well as Stadium Operations team members.
- Dozens of screens monitor everything from length of concession lines to the capacity of stadium garbage cans to street views of the areas surrounding the stadium.
- With so much activity happening across so many facets of the venue, it’s impossible for the Stadium Operations team to have eyes on every frame of every camera angle at every moment. So they use technology – including AI – to scan for unusual activity and bring it to the forefront so it can be addressed.
- With all of the data flowing in and out of the Main Operations Center, everything is protected with Cisco Secure Firewalls, while Cisco Secure Malware Analytics allows the Patriots to monitor, detect, and stop threats in their tracks.
Key Takeaway: “We’re always trying to figure out how we can get more information from every point in the stadium,” Israel said. “Then we can use that data to make the guest experience smoother, without them even knowing it.”
When you walk into either of the two data centers on-site at Gillette Stadium, you’ll immediately notice that each cabinet is precisely and consistently labeled according to a system Israel developed and implemented across The Kraft Group. With such a wide-ranging portfolio of properties to oversee and manage, documentation and standardization is the name of the game.
- Gillette Stadium has a fully redundant network in place – a red network and a blue network, so that should an issue arise, there is always one running in standby mode to prevent any disruption to guests or staff.
- For added security and peace of mind, all of the equipment for the network – including switches, servers, firewalls, etc. – is split between the stadium’s two data centers.
Key Takeaway: “The complexity of a stadium environment, and the demands placed on the network over a dense period highlight the need for confidence and trust,” Hynes says. “While most people don’t see the density a Gillette Stadium might have on any given Sunday, you can be sure they want to have the same level of reliability, and it emphasizes the need for them to be ahead, not behind in their network preparedness.”
Production Control Room
The Production Control Room at Gillette Stadium is – quite literally – where the magic happens.
- Every screen in the venue – more than 3,000 in total – is centrally managed from the control room, including the brand-new 22,000-square-foot video board, the largest outdoor stadium video board in the country.
- Every LED display, every digital menu board – even in-game instant replay feeds flow through this hub. And perhaps most crucially to Israel and his team – the broadcast is now controlled in-house on a secure IP Cisco network.
“One of the biggest challenges of the renovation was the need to bridge our core stadium business side with the broadcaster side,” Israel said. “We want to consolidate everything on our IP environment. So how do you link those pieces together?”
Broadcast had never been within Israel’s remit before, but through close collaboration with Cisco Advanced Services and Hynes’ team at Acadia Technology Group, Gillette Stadium now boasts one of the most sophisticated broadcast set-ups in the country. With its own on-premises IP control room, Gillette Stadium has the ability to produce its own shows and drastically reduce the amount of broadcast trucks that need to be brought in on a weekly basis.
- With Cisco's IP Fabric for Media solution, the Patriots can ensure the secure and efficient delivery of 4K content to fans everywhere. The technology has been used to power the broadcast of some of the largest and most prestigious sporting events in the world, including FIFA Women's World Cup™ 2023 and NBC Olympics’ broadcast of the 2021 Tokyo Games and next summer, the 2024 Games in Paris.
- Equally as important to Israel and his team, the consolidation onto a core Cisco network brings an added level of security, as things that were historically “off-network” are now within his purview.
Key Takeaway: “Everything associated with entertaining our guests is now on a Cisco network,” Israel said. “Everything is now monitored and discoverable within our security control system. In the past we had ‘pods’ of off-network items that were not historically within our domain but are now held to our security standards.”
“Security is all, everything, always right now,” Hynes added. “Any deployment isn’t going to just be about being connected, if it isn’t protected, we can’t even consider it. When you think about the video going to the boards, or video leaving the stadium, it better be secure because if it isn’t we could have an incident that would be exponentially negatively impactful.”
Press Conference Center
Every Monday morning at 8:00 am, Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick addresses the media. Win or lose, rain or shine, Coach Belichick – along with the rest of the Patriots coaching staff and players throughout the week – relies on Webex to connect with journalists.
- Ahead of the season, Hynes and his team at Acadia Technology Group architected and deployed a fully customized build-out for the Patriots to allow for greater flexibility surrounding their media engagements for players and coaches.
- Using a mixture of Webex Desk Pros and Room Kit Pros, the Patriots can now leverage a hybrid solution for press conferences, 1-on-1 interviews and more.
The North End Zone Expansion / Lighthouse
One of the most striking aspects of the renovation is the re-imagined Gillette Stadium Lighthouse – the tallest “lighthouse” in the United States.
- With a 360-degree observation deck and unmatched Instagram-able moments, the Lighthouse is an iconic feature of the stadium – and even contains LED paneling that lights up each time the Patriots score. And of course, all controlled via Cisco IP network.
If there is one thing we know to be true, it is that the most legendary teams and stadiums in the NFL need a fast, secure and reliable technology stack to grow their business and meet the ever-evolving demands of its fanbase. Cisco is proud to be on the front lines connecting and protecting the New England Patriots, so the team (and its fans) can focus on making winning plays on the field. When Gillette Stadium rang the bell, Cisco and Acadia Technology Group responded!