How Swansea City transformed its IT to become 'a Premier League business as much as a Premier League football team'

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Image: Flickr/Liberty Stadium panorama by Alexander Ridler

Swansea City COO Chris Pearlman explains to Computerworld UK why players are wearing the badge of Silicon Valley security business Barracuda Networks on its sleeves this season

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Football club Swansea City AFC has shot up through the divisions in a sharp ascent to the Premier League over the past decade. But while the club climbed into top-tier football, at the same time, the business quickly found itself ill equipped to cope with its drastically higher turnover.

"We had to become a much more professional organisation and be a Premier League business as much as a Premier League football team," says chief operating officer for Swansea City, Chris Pearlman, speaking with Computerworld UK.

The club, which dodged relegation at the end of the last season, was bought by American sports executive Jason Levien and Steve Kaplan, co-executive chairman of NBA team the Memphis Grizzlies, in the summer of 2016.

Chris Pearlman was parachuted in to Swansea from the US last October and one of the things he noticed first, despite not being an IT specialist, was an antiquated IT setup.

The club holds lots of extremely sensitive data – from the personal information of fans through to match tactics and management information – and if any of that was exposed, "from a PR perspective it would be terrible," he explains.

Pearlman says when he joined the club there were two important areas he thought needed a rethink: one was generating more revenue from commercial sponsorships, and the other was updating the "very old" IT infrastructure.

"For a club that has turnover of over £100 million a year, to have an IT security infrastructure that is sub-par is not something we were comfortable with," he says.

Pearlman had a working relationship with Barracuda Networks - now the sleeve sponsor of Swansea City - via one of the clients he used to manage back in the USA.

"I approached Barracuda with the opportunity," he explains. "I know from a marketing perspective they're a global brand, looking to get good exposure on a global basis. The Premier League obviously broadcasts in 150 countries worldwide. Swansea is the only Premier League club in Wales, so we get a large chunk of attention throughout the UK because of that.

"We had needs from an IT security perspective. We were upgrading to Office 365 over the summer, we have a website that gets a lot of traffic, we produce a lot of content, the amount of data and documents that we hold... we have player contracts, we have communication with the Premier League, with different agents, game strategy, managers... a whole lot of sensitive information there we need to protect.

"We have a CRM database of hundreds of thousands of supporters, with sensitive information. We need to be able to protect all this stuff."

So in exchange for cash from Barracuda plus an advertising spot on the sleeve, Swansea City said it would reinvest some of money back into its IT infrastructure, and brought in Barracuda Essentials for Office 365, the NextGen F-Series firewall, backup and recovery, archiver and compliance tool.

"It was eye opening, and it was something we definitely needed to address," says Pearlman. "Take it a step further with all the GDPR stuff that's coming in, and the status quo was not going to work for us."

In terms of broader digital plans, the club launched a new app and website over the summer, and mobile ticketing will be introduced into the app in the coming months. There's also going to be a single sign-on functionality across the club shop, via the app and website.

"The broader technology infrastructure, we are trying to stay current," says Pearlman. "It's interesting when you look at the Premier League landscape – I was surprised – a lot of clubs compared to what you see in the States, clubs are behind.

"And I think a lot of it is to do with what happened to us. When you're not in the Premier League for a certain amount of time, you don't have the years and years of having to act like a business that has the type of turnover that we are having.

"Touch wood, we're fortunate that we have had a few seasons in the row at the Premier League now, and we can begin to take the time to put in these resources."

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