CIO interview: Sanjeev Katwa, head of technology, Tottenham Hotspur FC

The Premier League club’s state-of-the-art new stadium is claimed to be the most technologically advanced in the world – its IT leader takes us behind the scenes

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: Computer Weekly: Technology at heart of Spurs’ new stadium

Sanjeev Katwa has every right to sit back and reflect proudly on his achievements. As head of technology at Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, Katwa and his team have helped to build the foundations for what is widely considered the most technologically advanced football stadium in the world.

“This has been an incredible process,” says Katwa, speaking to Computer Weekly before the recent opening of the state-of-the-art venue in north London. “I think more because we’re trying to meet the vision of what our chairman and our board want – and we’ve done that.”

Rather than simply being a home to football matches for 90 minutes every fortnight, Donna-Maria Cullen, executive director at Spurs, says she wants to make the stadium a destination. As well as Premier League football, the club has reached an agreement with the NFL to hold a minimum of two American football games a year in a 10-year partnership at the 62,062-seater stadium. The venue will also hold concerts by big-name bands.

But whatever the event, the executives at Spurs hope fans visiting the stadium spend longer there than usual, encounter a broader range of experiences and, as a result, spend more money. Katwa says technology plays a key role in helping the club to create new customer experiences at the stadium.

“We’ve changed how technology is used and we’ve changed stadiums forever,” he says. “I think our venue is the best stadium in the world. What we’ve done here has really exceeded everything I ever imagined.”

When it comes to being a technology leader, Katwa says he thinks of himself as fortunate. Although he has been responsible for the technology function at Spurs for the past five years, it is not his first role in football – he was IT director at Manchester City between 2010 and 2014.

“We’ve changed how technology is used and we’ve changed stadiums forever”

Sanjeev Katwa, Tottenham Hotspur FC

“I’ve been very lucky – I’ve worked at two venues for two fantastic football clubs,” he says.

Before working in football, Katwa worked in the media and entertainment industry with Sony BMG Music Entertainment and MTV Networks International.

At Spurs, he is responsible for managing technology partnerships across the club, including digital innovation.

But not everything relating to the opening of the new stadium has been straightforward. The ground was expected to be ready last summer, but construction delays meant Spurs finally played their first competitive match at the ground at the beginning of April. Now, after the club has spent upwards of £850m, fans can experience the stadium for themselves. 

Katwa says technology providers have played a key role in helping the club create its leading-edge venue. “We’ve chosen every single partner based on capabilities,” he says. “We’ve not just chosen partners, like some other football clubs, for commercial reasons. Every single partner has been chosen on capabilities,” he says.

“It wasn’t easy to win our business – our selection process was very capabilities-led. We’ve looked for new technologies, so if you look at audio as an example in the stadium bowl, we went with the newest speakers from Harman Audio, which were not even out at the time. So, we were first in Europe, we were prepared to take that risk, and the feedback’s been pretty good so far.”

Scalable network for changing demands

Katwa says Tottenham has pushed the boundaries in other areas of technology too, from video to IP connectivity and from mobility to payment technologies. The key backbone to these choices, he says, is the ground’s network infrastructure.

Strategic technology partner HPE has implemented a core wired network infrastructure that provides secure connectivity around the ground. The network supports critical services, such as CCTV, building management systems and ticketing. “The network is really the core of our entire technology journey,” says Katwa.

“Because the network is integrated with audiovisual and the key elements of fan experience, it allows us to move very quickly with new solutions. We set out with a vision of where we wanted to go and, obviously, the vision changes because technology changes over time, so some of our product choices changed as this project evolved.”

Katwa gives the example of big-screen technology supplied by Daktronics within the stadium seating bowl. There are four large LED screens inside the ground, and the two on the south side, each measuring 325m2, are the largest in any European stadium. There are also two video screens on the outside of the stadium and three tiers of LED ribbon display boards inside, which can be used for announcements and advertising.

“We wanted to make sure that when we did these things, we did them really well,” says Katwa. “And because the technology backbone and the infrastructure we’ve got is resilient and robust and scalable, it will allow us to push new technological developments in the future.”

Katwa believes the leading-edge technology he has deployed at the new stadium helps to meet the club’s vision of “Destination Tottenham”, where supporters can take advantage of longer and richer customer experiences than might be possible in older football grounds.

The stadium includes HPE Aruba technology with 1,641 Wi-Fi access points that provide 100% Wi-Fi coverage. Upwards of 700 HPE Bluetooth beacons work in conjunction with a newly created Spurs App to give fans location services, helping them to make choices between bars, restaurants and retail stores.

Outside the stadium, the Tottenham Experience houses the Spurs Shop, which at 23,000ft2 is the largest retail space at any football ground in Europe. Inside, the stadium includes a host of venues, including the 65m Goal Line Bar – the longest bar in Europe – and the club’s own microbrewery.

Read more sporting CIO interviews

Other facilities include a family area and top-price corporate facilities. These exclusive areas include suites, lodges serving Michelin-star calibre food, sky lounges and The Tunnel Club, a glass-walled restaurant and bar that gives supporters with money a behind-the-scenes view of the players’ tunnel.

“We offer a lot of choice,” says Katwa. “As a result, people have come early to our events so far and they’ve stayed later. Before matches, we’re looking to open up at least two hours before the game for general admission.”

Katwa adds that technology plays a key role in helping to ensure that supporter flow around the ground does not negatively impact customer experiences.

“It helps us not only to provide revenue, of course, but also in terms of managing the flow of people coming into the building,” he says. “We do security checks at the bottom of the ramp and we use technology for that using PDAs [personal digital assistants]. There’s access control to get into the stadium with three or four different types of turnstiles to get in, such as for away fans and higher premium guests.”

Integrating technology with design

Katwa says the success of these customer-focused strategies is directly related to the integral nature of technology to the stadium’s design. His team worked closely with stadium designer Populous, and the result is an integrated approach to architecture and digital services – which fans can witness at first-hand in the ground.

“We’ve incorporated technology into the design of the stadium, not only in terms of the technology infrastructure, but ultimately what we’re going to be doing in terms of the customer experience,” says Katwa.

The clearest example of this approach is the ground’s datacentre, which sits behind a glass-fronted wall, its servers exposed to supporters in one of the ground’s main stands.

The new stadium also uses a picocell architecture, with Wi-Fi access points mounted beneath fans’ seats. This system provides high-performance connectivity to the thousands of fans in the ground, which is something that usually creates significant problems at sporting venues.

Katwa says this focus on technology helps create a stadium that works for the club’s supporters. “To put our datacentre behind glass is a pretty bold step, but for us it’s just to sort of say, ‘This is where the technology is, this is what’s driving us – it’s the heart of the building’,” he says.

“What we’ve actually done is put the infrastructure in place first – and that’s given us a technology backbone as part of the stadium design.”

Selling a digital vision to the board

Close integration between all parties associated with the development of the stadium helped Tottenham’s technology team to make big decisions. Katwa says his vision for how digital services, such as contactless payment and mobile ticketing, could help revolutionise football support found favour at the highest echelons of the club.

“We’ve been very lucky – our chairman and our board have been very supportive of any idea we came up with,” he says. “So, when we decided to talk about cashless, that was something I brought to the table and said it would be great if we could do this. I also said it would be great to provide 100% mobile ticketing.”

All major contactless debit and credit cards are accepted at the cashless stadium, as well as mobile and wearable payment systems, including Apple Pay and Google Pay. Katwa says visiting other venues around the globe – such as other sports stadiums, but also airports and shopping centres – helped him see the value of pushing digital-led customer experiences as far as possible. It is something he intends to continue at Spurs now the ground is open.

“It’s not about just comparing our space to venues that are football clubs or multiplex venues, but we also need to look at the experience in terms of other venues and facilities. We will always try to add and change things,” he says.

“We will always look at new things, and that’s what this process has taught me. We’re not going to stand still, we’re always going to change – and we’ve got some great infrastructure to do some fantastic things.”

Read more on CW500 and IT leadership skills

Data Center
Data Management