MLSE Boss shares stories at C4 CIO Insider event

Humza Teherany may have made a change in his career, taking on the role of chief technology and digital officer for Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE) after being CEO of food services multinational Compass Group’s digital labs, but he’s still thinking about the best way for his customers to get food and drink in their hands.

The difference is that now, ordering a beer to your seat in Scotiabank Arena is just one aspect of the customer experience that he’s considering as he looks at transforming how fans interact with Toronto’s sports franchises – the Leafs, the Raptors, and TFC.

“We’re going to upgrade the experience that you have from the time you walk in, to when you get to your seat,” Teherany says, speaking to a small group in downtown Toronto. “The opportunity that sets us apart in Toronto is the talent and the people in this city.”

Humza Teherany talks with Fawn Annan
MLSE digital lead Humza Teherany speaks with ITWC President Fawn Annan. (Photo by Arianne Martin)

The new MLSE digital boss joined the organization in June 2018. Also the president of the CIO Association of Canada, he’s known for building a digital labs group at Compass. Now he’s built the same engine within MLSE and is looking to use it to rebuild the fan experience from inside the stadium all the way out to digital interactions from places as far-flung as China.

Teherany says that sculpting a digital lab is about aligning digital strategy to business strategy, and using it to supercharge the speed that business can accomplish its goals. He seeks to foster a culture of innovation, where employees think about what’s possible, creating the tools to deliver new experiences, and are willing to fail.

Rather than have MLSE’s IT operations split up across several groups, he’s restructured them into one 100-person team. It partners with other business groups internally to work on projects – none longer than 90 days – and is flexible enough to collaborate with external partners too.

“The digital lab is intended really to put everybody together to be able to do that full end-to-end, so you don’t have a hundred hand-offs, with an IT group, going to a digital group, going to others,” he says. “We have to sit and understand where our business partners want to take the business and then we have to react and adjust and drive towards those goals.”

MLSE remodeled its offices inside Scotiabank Arena to create a digital labs floor. It also sees team members co-located in the front offices of the Raptors, Leafs, and TFC to help them work with new technology.

“The goal of creating the best sports and entertainment digital experience in the world is a unifying statement,” Teherany says. “When you get a bunch of talented people to bring something to life, it’s a really special thing.”

Mobile apps play a role for fan experience whether in the stands or on the couch

Since Teherany joined MLSE just eight months ago, the organization has relaunched its mobile apps for the Raptors and Maple Leafs and is working on a new app for TFC as well. The mobile apps are built on Pittsburgh-based Yinzcam, which is designated as the NBA’s official team app and arena mobile app developer. Its team clients also include the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Golden State Warriors, and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

MLSE also took a product management approach, looking at each mobile app as its own product, hiring new people and expanding the roles of others to work on the development.

“Starting from the concept of digital apps and what we could do, we took a long look at what was happening in the business and all the things we wanted to achieve,” Teherany says. “It was obvious to me we had a great opportunity to expand our fan base and to make experiences richer for the existing fan.”

MLSE used its initial foray into mobile apps to learn about their audience, Teherany says, and the new push is focused on providing mobile app users more ways to interact and to transact. The app plays different roles for those watching the game in the arena, or following along at home.

For those heading to Scotiabank Arena, there’s no longer a need to print tickets at home. Tickets are bought and loaded into the app, and mobile screens are scanned to gain entry. From there, fans can order food and drinks directly to their seats – or even an official jersey with their favourite players’ name on the back.

For those at home, statistics about the game are generated in real-time as a play-by-play description of the game provides a second-screen experience to watching the broadcast. There’s a schedule of home and away games and ample content to explore, from official podcasts to post-game video interviews and highlights.

“I think this has created a huge upswing in how often people are using our apps now, and our user base has gone up as a result,” Teherany says. “Where we’re headed with the apps is as a platform for our fans anywhere in the world, to not only interact with us but to interact with each other.”

Expect to see more exclusive content coming to the apps, he says, along with even more rich analytics and statistics about the teams.

“Now when you’re interacting with the Raptors or the Leafs or TFC, you go to the app first,” he says. “You don’t have to go to 12 places to figure it out. Our mission is to give you that single place at the centre of the whole experience.”

So far the effort has resulted in a big off-court win for the Raptors. It has the biggest mobile user base in the NBA, according to Teherany. That’s based on data reported by Yinzcam and provided to its clients, he says.

Pushing into a new digital realm with eSports

An all too familiar scenario for Raptors fans unfolded with a new spin on Aug. 17, 2018 as the Raptors were eliminated from the playoffs by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Not to be confused with the four-game sweep of the Raptors the Cavaliers accomplished in the Spring, this stinging defeat took place in the video game NBA 2K.