CIO Profile: PGA European Tour's Mark Lichtenhein on sponsor relationships
CIO Profile: PGA European Tour's Mark Lichtenhein on hostile environments
In Pictures: The IT demands of the PGA European Tour
There is a calm atmosphere at the PGA European Tour headquarters within the Wentworth Golf Club in the leafy Surrey town of Virginia Water.
We meet the Tour’s head of IT, Mark Lichtenhein, in the boardroom, which is lined with silverware cabinets and photos of the great and the good of golf.
Like on the first tee of one of its many championships, this is not a place where you would expect to hear a raised voice and Lichtenhein talks at a languid pace.
He has a calm and relaxed way of expressing himself. But all this apparent serenity is a mask. Things go on at a hectic pace at the company and Lichtenhein’s role is typified by flux and change on many levels.
The PGA European Tour represents the interests of around 600 professional golfers.
The name is somewhat of a misnomer, as Lichtenhein explains that with events as far afield as South Africa, India and Dubai, the tour now stretches across the globe and handles the affairs of golfers from outside of Europe.
“The tournament takes Europe to the world,” he says, no doubt quoting some marketing tagline.
The PGA is also the managing partner for the European side of the Ryder Cup. The transatlantic team tournament is held in the region every four years, with the competition held in the US in the alternating even-numbered years.
It’s regarded as the premier team tournament of the sport, with millions of fans across the world.
The revenues for the organisation come mainly from broadcast rights and sponsorship, both big concerns for Lichtenhein, who runs the IT that supports both of these channels.
Increasingly, he notes, the Tour also interfaces directly with the end customer — the sport’s fan-base — through web pages and social media.
Ticketing and merchandising is also available directly from the organisation’s website.
Like many sports, golf attracts some obsessional interest from fans who constantly demand detailed information about the game. Golf is a complex game, so there’s plenty of data for fans to fixate over.
A moveable feast
There’s a lot of development going on as technology plays a greater part in enhancing supporters’ experience of the game, but the state of flux doesn’t end there. Lichtenhein’s team of 25 staff also has to cope with building and striking an IT infrastructure as many as 50 times a year as the tournament moves around the world from one competition to the next.
“We’re never in the same place for more than one week,” he says. “And it can be quite difficult when golf courses are often in quite remote locations. On some Scottish links you’re lucky to find a copper wire, let alone a high-bandwidth wifi network.”
Managing supplier relationships is always a core concern for the CIO, but the situation is made more complex for Lichtenhein because some of those suppliers are also sponsors.
This blurs the distinction of who is the supplier and who the client, but Lichtenhein doesn’t think there’s any danger of the tail wagging the dog.
The Tour’s requirements of its suppliers are so well defined and critical to the success of the competition as a spectator sport that there’s little danger of suppliers using their sponsor status as a stick with which to beat service levels down.
There is a clear set of mission-critical tasks that are non-negotiable, and in any case the reason technology sponsors are involved is so that they can show off their expertise in a high-profile environment.
“Those are the supplier relationships that work best. Suppliers are more likely to want to take prospective customers to see us than to some warehouse,” he says.