Canadian Football League tackles Web site revamp

The Canadian Football League‘s new Web site will touch down next month and a back-end IT overhaul will soon deliver scores faster than a bullet pass.

The CFL said Wednesday it has entered into a three-year contract with Sun Microsystems of Canada Inc. to update almost every aspect of its technology. It started with the Web site upgrade, said the league’s senior vice-president of marketing and partners Brent Scrimshaw, but quickly progressed.

“”It’s expanding to a full re-engineering of a lot of our business processes. The first project that we’re undertaking right now is management and statistics. We have manual processes in place at the league.””

Right now, CFL game scores are faxed to the head office in Toronto, then manually entered into a database, Scrimshaw said. “”The Sun program will allow us those scores in real-time so all of our constituencies from the media to the coaches will have that on their screens as it happens. That’s a big first step.””

Sun partner Vortisol Inc. will be developing the Web-based Java applications, which will run on Sun Fire servers and accessed from Sun Ray 150 thin client systems.

Brad Keates, vice-president of marketing and partners for Sun Canada, wouldn’t specify the value of the deal but placed it over $1 million. He said the deal will encompass getting a consistent look at feel for all of the CFL’s nine teams. Sun, through Vortisol, is going to create team-based interfaces and APIs “”so that teams with their own separate Web presences and internal functions can automatically begin to take advantage of all the information the CFL has.””

Consistency of score reporting will allow the CFL “”to compare game and team performance on a number of levels that we haven’t been able to (before). For the media — the football writers — it will be a massive improvement,”” said Scrimshaw.

Sun technology will eventually aid the league in managing player rosters and contracts, he added, but first the CFL will be looking to get some more yardage out of its Web site.

The site, in its current iteration, “”is a reasonable way for fans to get information on the CFL, but there’s no depth to it,”” said Scrimshaw. “”There is really no two-way communication between ourselves and our fans across the country. This (Sun deal) starts to allow us to generate a full and active database to establish insider reports or in-the-huddle reports for fans.””

In the past few years, Sun has allied itself closely with sports leagues. The National Hockey League, for example, ran its 2002 entry draft on Sun Ray thin clients, and Sun helped both Major League Baseball and the NHL relaunch their Web sites.

These organizations aren’t unlike enterprises with head and regional offices. The comparison isn’t lost on Keates. They “”run pretty complex organizations from the perspective that they all have very strong franchises,”” he said. “”One of their main goals is to figure out what types of tools they can deliver to these franchises thay they will accept.””

The CFL’s head office in Toronto will be the first recipient of new Sun technology. “”The plan over the next couple of years is to roll it out to all nine clubs,”” said Scrimshaw.

On June 24, the CFL will launch the first phase of its Web site redesign with news archives, player profiles. Fantasy games will follow shortly.

Scrimshaw said the CFL took a good look at the NHL’s and MLB’s Web sites before selecting Sun. “”If we get close, it’ll be the best sports site in the country,”” he said.

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