Last month, at the invitation of Sports Business Daily, I spoke to a crowd of influencers in the sports industry about the impact of technology on sports. I profiled several thought-leading sports organizations that are applying technology in creative ways to transform their fans’ experience, how they compete and the sports business itself.
Whenever I hear about new ways sports organizations are adopting innovative technologies, I like to learn more, because innovation in sports is by design. These organizations approach innovation in a methodical way, ensuring that they can scale reliably and deliver a regular return on investment.
Recently I spoke with Scott Atherton, president of the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA), which is based in Daytona Beach, FL. Atherton explained to me how IMSA has used Microsoft Azure and Visual Studio to create an engaging app experience that scales across platforms, devices, and services. Here are some key takeaways from our conversation and a video interview with the IMSA team.
Fans and fan experiences are critical for the sports industry
In the past, sports fans were limited to watching games or engaging with their teams at stadiums or on television. Today, fans have access to numerous devices, and sports organizations must scale to meet their fans where they are. It is critical that sports organizations deliver a consistent and continuous experience across platforms and devices to keep fans engaged. IMSA makes its technology decisions with this philosophy at its core, ensuring it can deliver applications that scale to meet the needs of its fans.
Cross platform development empowered IMSA to focus on creating innovative content
IMSA utilizes a combination of Microsoft Visual Studio and Xamarin, meaning it needs to create content just once and can publish it across Android, iOS, and Windows. This practice saves money and developer time and creates efficiencies since developers need only work in a single code base. This combination has empowered IMSA to focus on developing innovative content instead of figuring out the mechanics of how to make code work on different platforms. “The most interesting thing about the timeline,” said Atherton, “is that in the past, we’ve always had recode several times. So when we began to look at new solutions, Visual Studio and Xamarin stood out. They allowed us to build once and achieve scale quickly.”
Azure Services, powering a personalized fan experience
In order to create an app that engages fans across devices and platforms, IMSA wanted to consolidate data on timing, scoring, and telemetry no matter where it came from—car cameras, radio feeds—and make it available in real time based on fans’ preferences. Microsoft Azure provides IMSA with a backend service that streamlines data from all these sources and funnels it through custom filters with accuracy and speed. IMSA also leverages Azure Mobile Services to quickly set up notification services that “just work” no matter which platform a fan uses.
IMSA knew it was important to scale its streaming capabilities, but it also needed to make sure that content met fans’ expectations. Fans associate themselves with specific brands. IMSA wanted to make sure that it was providing an interactive experience so fans could consume content and car manufacturers could customize the experience. Azure Services allows IMSA fans to consistently enable brand customization and personal preferences. So a Corvette fan can go in and customize the app experience to Corvette versus a generic experience.
Scale based on demand
IMSA conducts over 90 races on 20 different weekends, so usage spikes are expected and significant. IMSA uses Azure to scale up and scale down their services, based on demand, without having to restructure and reconfigure.
“From an infrastructure perspective, we couldn’t really scale much with our prior hosting company,” said Atherton. “After much research, we decided to go with Azure, as it allows us to do everything from Web hosting to VOD hosting to push notifications and more. Deployment to Azure was a seamless experience – the most efficient, ever.”
Microsoft, a great partner for a great fan experience
Delivering a great fan experience is a combination of many things. A great app with a great UI is just the beginning of a great fan experience. Taking that experience to the next level means being able to consume, analyze and act upon data, which powers the personalization of experiences to the individual level. Beyond that, an experience can’t be delivered if the services that experience is built upon aren’t reliable and scalable.
Efficient use of existing resources is also critical. IMSA was able to reuse more than 75% of its code across the three platforms, reducing time to market and delivering a rich cross-platform app experience within 13 weeks. “This technology model has given an ability to build return on investment across all facets of our business, and it’s given us the ability to do it with a one-stop shop,” said Atherton.
From great developer tools, to first-class application and data services to scalable infrastructure, Microsoft technology meets all of IMSA’s needs and demands in delivering a first-class fan experience in all of these areas.
To get started with Visual Studio, join the Visual Studio Dev Essentials program, which gives you the tools, cloud services and training you need to build and deploy your app on any platform. Also, sign up for a free Azure Trial or enroll in Cloud Development Courses from the Microsoft Virtual Academy.