“When I first thought I wanted to get into IT, one of the reasons was because I didn’t have great relationship skills, and I thought my perfect job would be sitting in a corner somewhere typing away on a computer,” says Brandon Covert, vice president of IT for the Cleveland Browns.
Covert has now been with the Browns for fifteen years, and his job probably couldn’t be any more relationship-based if he tried. The VP engages multiple vendor partners who help make the fan experience at every Browns game as seamless as possible, whether they’re at the FirstEnergy Stadium in person or watching from home. And that doesn’t take into account all of the people inside the organization he communicates with on a daily basis.
A contracted IT consultant before being brought in-house, Covert says the NFL team has truly become home, and it’s why he’s stayed for a decade and a half. But that doesn’t mean the VP has it all figured out. In fact, the professional sports franchises he oversees IT efforts for has just doubled, and he couldn’t be more excited.
Covert’s journey to the Browns is, in many ways, in keeping with the team’s scrappy, underdog reputation. The future IT VP didn’t make it far through his first year of college before electing to opt out for something else; he just wasn’t sure what. “I was washing trucks at UPS, working as a line cook, whatever I could, really,” Covert recalls.
But his love of tech coincided perfectly with organizations looking for what Coverts calls “any warm body who might be interested in computers” to train and deploy as the Y2K Compliance panic took full effect. The rest is history.
Family and Friction
Coming to the Browns after spending time at a slew of industries from banking to healthcare, Covert says he was most struck by the culture of the professional football team that extends well beyond any normal nine-to-five. “As stressful as it can be and as many hours as everyone here puts in, it’s never felt excruciating,” Covert says. “The people here feel like family to me, and that extends well beyond my department to the entire organization. Everyone understands the challenges of our business and we’re aligned to try to accomplish the same goal.”
While the football season may require substantial weekend hours and a willingness to be on call at any time, Covert says the Browns’ focus on making their organization a great place to work is definitely noticed. “People who work here feel supported and want to do a good job,” Covert says. “I’ve been other places where you come in and do your work and go home. I don’t think that’s the attitude here for anyone.”
Covert says aiding on-field success means delivering an unrivaled fan experience. “We spend a lot of time working to identify the main friction points of a fan’s journey in our stadium on gameday,” Covert says. “We’re continually looking for new ways that technology can help reduce that friction.”
The Browns have spent years studying traffic patterns on game days from both vehicular and pedestrian standpoints. “Obviously, seventy thousand people leaving at the same time tends to cause some traffic problems,” Covert says, laughing. “But I think we’ve improved that process to be ten-times better than it has been in the past.” Part of that solution includes partnering with GPS Waze to communicate with fans directly about street closures and ideal routes for getting to and from fan parking on game day.
“The people here feel like family to me, and that extends well beyond my department to the entire organization.”
Once in the stadium, the IT team has partnered with its food, beverage, and merchandising vendors to reduce the time of sales so that fans can get back to the game. “Whatever seconds we can save really adds up when you’re talking about the volumes of people we deal with,” Covert explains. Contactless payment, expanded cellular and Wi-Fi coverage, and more single-item stands for high-volume concessions (beer, in particular) have all been areas of focus as the Browns continue to cut down on transaction times.
“Enabling our customers to thrive is our number-one priority at Momentum Telecom,” says Todd Zittrouer, CEO of Momentum Telecom. “It’s been fantastic to work with Brandon and his team these past few years and have our solutions be part of an always-evolving fan experience.”
In all of these spaces, maintaining a communicative and collaborative relationship with third-party vendors is essential. “Regardless of which partner is performing the function, it’s ultimately the Brown’s brand at stake,” Covert explains. “We spend a lot of time with these companies to instill rewards programs and ensure they train their employees appropriately to implement service with excellent standards because we recognize these people are a key interface between us and our fans.”
The New Crew
As if one professional team wasn’t enough, the Haslam family, who owns the Browns, has invested in a little team down the I-71 interstate. The Columbus Crew, a Major League Soccer mainstay, are in the middle of building a brand-new stadium, putting Covert’s IT expertise to the test.
“This is such a unique opportunity to build a new stadium. There’s literally a giant hole in the ground in Columbus right now. I get to be part of a technology implementation that you’re not necessarily going to get to do unless you’re building something new.”
The new stadium and new training facilities in Columbus are set to open in 2020, and Covert says there are both overly and less obvious tech capabilities that haven’t been seen in professional sports. “This is a whole new aspect of my day-to-day, and while it’s a lot of work, it’s so exciting,” Covert says.
Working with the Columbus organization is yet another set of relationships to navigate that are crucial to the on-and-off field success of the team. For a guy who thought his dream job was working quietly solo in front of a screen, Covert’s evolution as a leader and tech expert is a real underdog win for the people of Ohio.
When the Cleveland Browns wanted to revamp its internal communications and networking playbook in 2012, it turned to Momentum Telecom. Momentum helped the Browns architect a solution that allowed them to eliminate the complexity of multiple vendors and scale as their needs changed. For Browns VP of IT Brandon Covert, no example captures this teamwork quite like Thanksgiving in 2015. The Browns needed to increase the WiFi capacity at FirstEnergy Stadium by 500 percent prior to a big event, and Momentum worked through the holiday to get the job done. Learn how we can help your business; visit momentumtelecom.com.