WiFi Networking Lessons Retail CIOs can Learn from the NFL

Similar to the games NFL players compete in each week of the season, retail is hypercompetitive and ever-changing. Football fans expect an exciting competition and amazing experiences if they visit the stadium, just as retail customers expect personalized experiences and quality products. In both cases, these organizations are heavily reliant on data, so having a high-performance network is critical to success.

Selfies, social check-ins, livestreams, mobile ticketing and cashless transactions all rely on a network that is sophisticated enough to handle huge spikes in data and heavy demands on the network. But the NFL has an edge, as it has led the way in adopting technologies like network analytics and cloud management solutions that make it easier to ensure the network can handle demands from both fans and operational teams.

As the retail industry introduces modern shopping experiences underpinned with new technologies like AI, retailers can take a page from the NFL’s playbook and adapt those learnings to their unique environments.

Lesson 1: Network Analytics Can Streamline Operations

The NFL uses advanced WiFi analytics to gain insights into fan activity — cashless payments for beer, posting on social media or queueing for the restrooms — that enables them to better understand at a granular level their data usage and plan for other underlying networks.


Data analytics is a powerful tool retailers can use to deliver better shopping experiences. From the network to the applications, data analytics aids in real-time operational decisions, better understanding of user behavior and engagement and seamless business application delivery for an optimized customer experience.

However, most retailers aren’t ready for prime time when it comes to adopting these tools. Recent research from Retail Info Systems found that 45% of retailers rank themselves as lagging in analytics tools deployment, opening an opportunity for early adopters to gain a competitive edge.

Lesson 2: Turning IT From a Cost Center to a Profit Center

The NFL’s main product is live sports content, but the league also generates revenue thanks to rich data-driven fan insights. Selling tickets for fans to sit in the stands has evolved into monetizing data streams through stadium-wide WiFi, where brands can connect with fans and keep them engaged with all forms of social media, video-sharing sites, sports betting, concessions and merchandise.

Retailers can take a similar approach and think beyond just getting a consumer in the store to purchase a product. They can transform their IT center into a profit center, where the network is:

  • High-performing, resilient and well-managed across all locations;
  • Robust, with 24/7 cybersecurity;
  • Consistent, with uninterrupted cloud and data access; and
  • Primed to deliver advanced analytics and enabled with artificial intelligence to optimize performance.

Lesson 3: Networking Flexibility and Scalability for the Win

Just this past February, for Super Bowl LVII, 31.5 TB of data was transferred at State Farm Stadium — the highest average usage per connected device in history at 643 MB per fan. This was an incredible feat for the NFL’s network, but it wasn’t made possible overnight. It was built pragmatically and designed to scale for the future.

To overcome critical business challenges and drive innovation, retail organizations require purpose-built IT networking solutions that are fast, flexible, secure and deliver unparalleled connectivity.

For example, many NFL teams are experimenting with changing the nature of the payments experience. By extending wireless outside the traditional stadium environment, they are enabling mobile ticketing at entry. But once inside, guests can use those mobile devices for cashless payments and in-app ordering of concessions. Retailers with robust in-store wireless can recreate the same experience by providing wireless connectivity at entry and enable customers to experience in-store purchasing, payments and deals through their mobile devices.

AI: Retail’s New Star Player?

It’s hard to find an industry that isn’t using AI in one way or another, and retail is stocking up on AI. IDC reports that the sector’s spending in 2023 will outpace all others except banking. A 40% adoption rate is projected to double by 2025, making retail the industry that is the most heavily invested in this intelligent technology.

It’s not enough to just meet consumer needs today; retailers need to be able to anticipate the next thing customers will want or need, and when, and analytics can help provide the answers.

AI can help retailers intercept at-risk customers. Many at-risk customers will stay with a brand with the appropriate level of intervention, but the trouble is knowing which customers are at risk, when they’re likely to leave, what to say to them and when it’s best to do so. Data-driven insights can help answer those questions.

For retailers ready to deploy AI, aspects of the business where it can immediately be leveraged are in demand forecasting and merchandising. With in-store heat-mapping technology using a combination of cameras and computer vision, retailers can understand which products are picked up, which are returned and where the customer goes after leaving the shelf or area. This level of intelligence enables retailers to create experiences that promote engagement with products and help shoppers understand the value of products.

Or retailers can put AI to use in automated inventory management. With AI and computer vision in use in self-checkout systems, retailers can mitigate product loss in real time, operate stores more efficiently and free up associates’ time to focus on improving the shopping experience.

Getting Your Game Face On

The new retail experience that today’s consumers expect is a perfect harmony of ecommerce and brick-and-mortar, where the customer receives both the right amount of attention and autonomy.

Despite the convenience of online, brick-and-mortar retail is still preferable for the majority of consumers. Consumers want quick, attentive, respectful service and staff along with a carefully curated aesthetic. Going through the doors should evoke surprise and delight, according to Forbes, and provide an immersive brand experience, giving customers the personalized attention and warmth that can be lacking online. It’s a chance to ask questions, get advice and touch and feel the items.

Some retailers are even going the extra mile, differentiating with immersive reality elements. Restaurants like Pizza Hut have added augmented reality to transform pizza boxes into a virtual arcade for playing Pac-Man. All of this contributes to your brand’s reputation and that super-important first impression. And it underscores how the network comes into play to enable, support and nurture such digital and physical experiences.

A smart area to focus on first is network visibility and control. Immediate and long-term return can come from investing in solutions that enable retailers to connect quickly, reliably and consistently across multiple locations while maintaining full visibility into retail traffic patterns. These solutions deliver real-time insights on customer visits, buying decisions and other behaviors, serving up timely data insights to keep up with current consumer expectations and get ahead of emerging trends.

The NFL has built a network that delivers next-generation experiences, delighting its fans and impressing organization partners alike, all while making operations more efficient. Retailers can set their customers up to think the same way as fans anticipating the start of a new season — excited to get back into the store or online for the full brand experience. The NFL’s network build and deployment offers retailers a smart playbook they can follow, with modifications unique to their brand that will enable them to stay ahead of the curve with data-driven decisions.

Natasha McNulty is a Senior Content Strategist for Extreme Networks specializing in K-12 education, higher education, and retail. Captivated by connections of any kind, she strives to uncover the human side of every story. Although she started in business reporting, her career has kept her rooted in advanced technology. Over the years she has written about everything from the birth of the QR code and video conferencing to remote working and virtual reality. These days she’s focused on uncovering new ways for better outcomes in education and retail. When she’s not writing about exciting new tech trends or being a mother to her three children, she finds peace in nature by hiking and running in the Canadian outdoors with her extra-loud hound, Tommy.

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