It’s the Super Bowl, only the most-watched sporting event in the country. As the NFL’s Chief Information Officer you’re responsible for sideline and press box communications when the power unexpectedly goes out. What do you do?
“We had drilled procedures what would happen if we lost power to a data center or if we lost our systems for any reason how we would bring them back up and in what order,” said Michelle McKenna-Doyle, NFL Chief Information Officer since 2012, on the infamous 34-minute, third-quarter Superdome blackout in 2013. “We were able to be very calm and follow our plan. We had to slowly bring up each system and make sure it was stable before we brought on the next one. What you didn’t want to do was bring up everything at once and have an issue and not know what caused the problem. It was a little bit chaotic until we figured out what was going on.”
McKenna-Doyle, a 1987 Harbert College of Business alum with a degree in accounting, is the former CIO at Constellation Energy in Baltimore and Senior Vice President and CIO at Universal Orlando Resort. The Enterprise, Ala., native was part of the Auburn University All-Star Speaker Series and addressed guests Nov. 21 at the Auburn Alumni Center.
As the NFL’s CIO, McKenna-Doyle oversees the league’s technology strategy and implementation – including stadium communications, instant replay, coach-to-coach communications, and statistical systems. Recently recognized by the Sports Business Journal as a “Game Changer” (women making a difference in sports), McKenna-Doyle is revolutionizing NFL sidelines.
Have you noticed wireless NFL sidelines this season? What about coaches reviewing game footage, alignments and strategy with players via Microsoft Surface tablets? Gone are the old days of coaches tripping over wires and studying opponents’ first-quarter formations via black and white photos. Welcome to the new, totally mobile NFL sideline … one where coaches can use the tablet’s zoom feature with their fingers and telestrate plays in real time.
“We stepped back and said, ‘We’re the NFL here. We need to be setting the standard,’” she said.
McKenna-Doyle also spearheads efforts to reduce unnecessary game stoppages.
“Game length continued to grow over the past few years,” she said. “There is a magic number that keeps your ratings high and keeps your fans engaged. We wanted to cut down on unnecessary delays in the game due to officiating. We did some new technology on the sidelines this year where we now have centralized consults – all the video feed that is being looked at by officials on the sideline is consolidated here in our New York office and the communication is tied in between the headset of the referee and the head officiating here in the command center. While he’s walking over to check under the hood for the replay, we’re seeing it already and we can begin to consult with him and ultimately shave some time off of the game.”
Change isn’t just coming to the sidelines and control rooms. McKenna-Doyle noted the NFL is looking to “grow our market,” ensuring the NFL is a popular brand internationally as well as domestically – including franchise relocation. Continued sponsorship of youth football programs and working toward improved player safety are also primary focuses.
“Data or analytics that you can use to inform when it is the right time to use to help, and inform when to make certain investments are a big part of my job – provide that data analysis so that the decision-makers can make the best decisions,” she said. “One thing I love about being in the field of technology is the CIO role. It can be the single-best job to see the whole organization at its intersection because at some point everything goes into our system and the data that you create in those systems is one of your most valuable assets. That’s how I see my role, not directly responsible for those strategies but being a very key delivery dependency on most if not all of those strategies.”
McKenna-Doyle has held an executive position since 1999, when she served as Vice President at Destination Disney in Central Florida. According to the Center for American Progress, only 14 percent of executive officers among Fortune 500 companies are women.
“I would encourage women while they are in college and their formative years to make sure they get the right role models and coaching to help build the confidence because compared to their male counterpart, they don’t come into organizations with as much confidence,” she said. “Young guys often come into an organization thinking they can one day be the CEO from day one. Unfortunately, young women are more reticent to step forward and say ‘I can do that’ until they are sure they can do it. Part of growing is being bold and saying you can take something on before you are 100 percent sure that you can. My biggest advice is to believe in yourself, don’t be so hard on yourself, and make sure you get the right sponsors and mentors. If that’s not happening, you’ve got to ask for it.”
Growing up in a decisively pro-Crimson Tide household in South Alabama, McKenna-Doyle’s father, Jackie Robinette, purchased the family’s first color TV to watch former Tide quarterback Joe Namath play in Super Bowl III. Her brother, Chris Robinette, even played center for the Crimson Tide from 1986-91.
“My dad always thought his kid would end up in the NFL -- but he didn’t think it would be his daughter,” McKenna-Doyle quipped.