Nick Maou and Xavier Gomez, co-founders of Microsoft partner SharpHat, first met as freshmen at St. John’s University in 1987. The two later worked together at PCSI (Professional Computer Services, Inc.) in 1995 as consultants before joining forces in 2001 to start their own company. It was at PCSI that Nick, one of the top UI/UX developers on staff, designed a statistical game day application to be used by multiple football organizations including the largest football league in the United States.
This is SharpHat’s story of how Nick and Xavier built their partnership with the Canadian Football League. Their app has enhanced the football experience both on the field and in the stands for over 15 years.
Building a Partnership from the Ground Up
In 2007, SharpHat began working with a major American football league on various IT projects and applications that quickly became an industry standard. In 2014, this same league referred SharpHat to the Canadian Football League (CFL) to build a new, customized statistical application for them.
The CFL required a more efficient method of collecting their statistics and they wanted a real-time statistical system to give their fans an even greater game day experience. Because Nick’s statistical game day application had performed well for 15 years, he pitched a similar, yet more modern concept to the CFL. They were sold.
“It was important to understand the client’s need for the statistical app, how it would be used, who the users would be, the environment it would be run in, etc. One of the biggest challenges with an application like this was that it would be used for only 3 hours a week and 10-12 weeks a year. It needed to be intuitive and easy to use.”
– Nick Maou, President/CEO of SharpHat, Inc.
Developing the App
After meeting with the CFL in Toronto, SharpHat began documenting requirements and designing the new system. After 3 months, development began.
The new system, called CFL Connect, is built on SQL Server, Visual Studio, .NET and Microsoft Owin, and is designed to capture exactly what happens on the field. Users enter the specifics about each play and the custom statistical engine turns those events into stats. This allows the CFL to generate any statistics they want from each play.
SharpHat worked closely with the CFL’s head statistician, Steve Daniel, to ensure all CFL rules were coded into the system.
“Our goals were to move from a more traditional approach into new areas of analytics [in real-time with our existing in-stadium personnel]. The CFL needed an application developer that could adapt easily to our own brand of three-down football and to our unique and complex statistical Rulebook. And do it in a way that allows us to innovate while maintaining a consistent, informative stream of game data to our management, clubs, and especially our fans.”
– Steve Daniel, Canadian Football League
The application has three major components: data entry, the statistical engine, and reporting. According to Martin Roth, Lead Software Architect at SharpHat, Inc., CFL Connect has a rich web interface that is driven by SignalR connections to a central server. SignalR enables multiple users to collaborate seamlessly, entering information about the current play or going back to edit data for previous plays. Fans can immediately see updates on their screens and off-site supervisors can see the results of a play via CFL Connect before it happens on television.
“When entry or editing of a play is complete, an asynchronous call to the C# Statistics Calculation Engine initiates processing of the various events that make up the play, such as passes, kicks, fumbles, tackles, penalties, and so on, primarily through the implementation of a Strategy pattern, resulting in a text description of the play, player, and team level statistics.”
– Martin Roth, Lead Software Architect at SharpHat, Inc.
The team-level statistics are then stored in the master database and immediately replicated into a secondary database optimized for reporting and analysis. The information is then returned to the main application to be shared with users.
Additionally, “The secondary database is accessed by several near-real-time systems that make the information available via the CFL’s and individual teams’ websites. In addition, XML output files are generated for compatibility with legacy systems. On demand, usually at the end of each quarter, PDF summary reports can be generated for distribution to the press or the public” Roth said.
SharpHat, Inc. also created a live stats application for the CFL, which is used by in-stadium media, PR, and anyone who needs access to the game’s statistics in real-time. Once the crew finishes entering a play, those statistics are calculated and updated on the live stats app within seconds. This enables fans to view game stats faster than ever.
Vanessa Morbi, Director of Product Development and Marketing Operations for the CFL, says this has not only enabled the CFL to deliver game statistics to fans in real-time, but it has also empowered the CFL to develop products to increase engagement among current fans and attract their next generation of fans.
Maintaining Client Success
After the initial season, the CFL considers the app to be a resounding success. “In hindsight, my only regret in choosing SharpHat is that we didn’t find them sooner. In that way, we would have derived the benefits from a system much earlier that now captures many more data points with a data entry process that is as simple as the game of football conducted at ultra high speed allows. I can’t imagine embarking on this project with another technology partner” Steve Daniel said. Nick agrees and believes that SharpHat’s commitment to the client relationship is a big contributor to their success.
“I think the most important thing is having a true investment into your client’s business. At SharpHat, we never feel like a vendor to our customers. We feel like we are a part of their organization and truly care about their success.”
– Nick Maou, President/CEO of SharpHat, Inc.
How do you help ensure your clients’ success? Do you work closely with customers to ensure they are getting the most out of your product or service? Share your thoughts in the comments below.