How a Woman Revolutionizes the NFL

April 01, 2014

By Jay Hamburg

Michelle McKenna-Doyle ’95MBA is leading the National Football League in technological advances.

DESPITE A LONG GAP IN GRIDIRON GLORY, Rollins boasts a graduate who ranks near the top of the National Football League. Indeed, Michelle McKenna-Doyle ’95MBA is leading the league toward a technological change that may revolutionize the field of play.

Michelle is a senior vice president in the NFL and the first person in the league’s history to bear the title of chief information officer. She also is an unabashed fan of great performers in both high-tech jobs and high-scoring games. “I love technology, and I love the sport of football,” says Michelle, who splits her time between New York and Orlando.

Michelle comes by her dual interests naturally. She led several technological advancements at Walt Disney World Resort and Universal Orlando Resort, and her brother played football for the University of Alabama. She arrived at NFL headquarters in New York City in 2012 after a stint as chief information officer at Constellation Energy in Baltimore.

“Success in business is about seeing issues from many perspectives,” Michelle says. “That’s what I learned from the Rollins MBA program. The teaching and learning style was very collaborative.”

Using that collaborative style, she is assembling teams that are looking into improving smartphone connectivity in NFL stadiums, as well as testing tiny data-collection devices on helmets, footballs, and on the field itself. The information collected from helmets may lead to increased safety. The data collected from chips embedded in footballs can provide exact measurements of height, distance, and speed.

With so many possible data-collection points, coaches may gain new insights into what is going wrong on the field from the sideline. Imagine, she says, players with wearable technology embedded in their uniforms. Coaches could map their players’ exact movements on the field and compare those paths to the expected routes needed to execute a perfect play.

The embedded technology is still in a test phase and is not yet ready for game day. “I can’t tell the difference between a football with a chip in it and one without,” Michelle says. “But NFL quarterbacks notice it right away.”

Moreover, even the best technology can clash with custom.While embedded chips in footballs and fields could silence debates over a disputed first down, Michelle knows that many fans love the ritual of seeing officials carry out first-down markers and stretch the chains to measure those crucial 10 yards. “We embrace innovation but greatly respect our traditions.”

Her love of technology increased as she rose through the Disney ranks. As vice president for information technology at Walt Disney World Resort, she led the company’s largest technological transformation, modernizing the sales and marketing operations.

A few years after she received her graduate degree, Michelle was tapped by Universal Orlando Resort. As the theme park’s senior vice president and chief information officer, she was responsible for innovation, oversight, and leadership of technology, which included the launch of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction, including technology for the rides and the more than 900 sales terminals as well as the website.

“My favorite thing was being there that morning when the first Harry Potter fans walked into Hogsmeade,” she says. “We were able to transport them to a world that previously had only lived in their minds and on a screen, and that was incredibly rewarding. It was also pretty cool to meet J.K. Rowling and watch her experience in physical form what came from her imagination.”

Michelle said her varied career has taught her that you can’t plan everything. “Don’t overthink it or overplot it. Just be the best you can be in your position.” While that requires continuous learning on the job, she said Rollins remains vital to her success. “It gives you such a well-rounded experience and prepares you to hit the ground running wherever you land.”

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