New England Patriots' Secret Weapon Is Team's Web Site

The NFL's winningest football operation has also got its online act together, but it's not easy supporting post-playoff traffic surges, sweatshirt sales, and a planned Patriots Hall of Fame.

W. David Gardner, Contributor

January 18, 2008

4 Min Read

As the New England Patriots prepare for Sunday's AFC championship game against the San Diego Chargers, the IT team running the Patriots' Web site is ready to support the huge surge in traffic set to follow what it expects will be another win in the team's undefeated season.

Every week that the Patriots rack up another win -- they have recorded 17 in a row so far this season -- the test for the site grows as traffic increases, jumping from hundreds of thousands of hits to millions as fans rush to log on after a game.

"We get an insane explosion of traffic, post-game," said Gabriel Smallman, co-owner of the Internet Commerce Company, which operates the Patriots Web site. "Somehow the system can't come apart at the seams."

Noting that the growth in traffic isn't linear as it traditionally is on most Web sites, Smallman said the sudden blast of traffic is a unique but happy problem for the football organization.

Observing that the Patriots have invested heavily in site to enable it to support the traffic bursts, Smallman said he expects the number of hits will rocket this Sunday if the Patriots beat the Chargers.

The two teams are playing for the American Football Conference championship and the winner goes to the Super Bowl. The Patriots have won three of the last four Super Bowls.

On the Pats' site, it's not just the traffic surge that has to be handled. Disgruntled fans from losing teams sometimes seek to take out their frustration and anger by attempting to hack into the Patriots system to demonstrate the undefeated team isn't unbeatable in all things. "There's always the threat of attack," said Smallman, speaking from a position of experience. "We've been able to stay up through Super Bowls."

After a winning championship game, fans rush to the Patriots ProShop to buy an assortment of souvenirs ranging from sweatshirts and caps to mousepads and even dog bones. It can be a delirious land rush of buying, much of it impulsive and the more effective the shopping section of the site is, the higher the sales will be.

Like the Patriots' football-omniscient coach, Bill Belichick, a master of detail, the football organization has thought of every conceivable product for every conceivable and potential fan in every conceivable part of the world. For future quarterbacks, there are Tom Brady preschool jerseys and Patriot stuffed bears; for do-it-yourselfers there are Patriots hammers and tape measures, for gardeners, there are tree skirts. The site is server-based and outfitted with Dell machines. Among the mission-critical apps are Adobe's Cold Fusion and Microsoft's SQL Server. Northeast Data Vault is the team's data center. "It's very vanilla stuff," said Smallman. "It's not a clustered environment and the ProShop couldn't be cached."

The entire site rests on Akamai Technologies' EdgeSuite, which accelerates content and business processes online. "Without Akamai, the whole thing falls down," said Smallman. "Akamai shoulders the traffic."

Akamai's worldwide infrastructure can be instrumental in spreading the Patriots' reach globally and particularly to China where the Pats began publishing in 2004. Smallman observed that the Patriots' New England-based site is seeing growing volume from Asia, and he added that the team has an active fan base in China including a network of Patriots fan clubs. A separate Web site has been set up in China; there's even a Chinese Cheerleader Swimsuit Calendar available.

Located in suburban Boston and with data storage pacesetter EMC's name plastered all over Gillette Stadium, it was a logical step for the Patriots to be in the vanguard of teams using the Internet. Indeed, the Patriots claim to be the first major professional sports team to have establish a website, which the did in 1995. The Patriots have operated a direct-to-digital online video program since 1997 and the company continues to be in a pacesetter in the use of video.

When the season is finally over, Internet Commerce Company will begin upgrading the Patriots site. Work will get underway on features to support a Patriots Hall of Fame, improving in-media text searching, developing a registry for high school football teams, and promoting gaming entertainment.

Smallman has prepared his site for a massive post-game traffic detonation Sunday, and he is preparing for the biggest rush of all after the Super Bowl, providing, of course, that the Patriots beat the Chargers.

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