NFL Properties tracks signature hats with OLAP
(IDG) -- As another NFL football season gets under way, fans everywhere don apparel adorned with team logos. The responsibility for tracking sales of this vast array of licensed merchandise -- about $300 million annually -- lies with NFL Properties.
To do this, NFL Properties turned to online analytical processing (OLAP) data tools that mesh with existing financial systems to improve analysis and that work with a burgeoning extranet to reduce reporting times. The result is end-of-the-month closings cut from two weeks to two days. The company estimates that the OLAP tools will pay for themselves in just one year.
"The objective was to speed up the budget and estimating process because the season is so short," says Ralph Carras, vice president of finance.
Based in New York, NFL Properties manages all licensing agreements for the 31 professional football teams in the NFL and on behalf of the league itself. In summary, there are 32 logos or "shields" that appear on about 3,000 different products, sold by 300 licensees, each season.
Until last season, data from this far-reaching sales and distribution network was gathered manually and logged in to the existing general ledger (GL) system and then into spreadsheets. According to Sanjiv Satyarthi, IT director, it simply took too long to get data into the GL system and then out again and into applications for analysis.
"We used to send out paper forms, one per month per product to licensees, which was terribly slow and caused errors because they were handwritten," Satyarthi says.
Once data was input into the GL, analysts had to rely on the IT department to write custom reports, which often added delays.
"It could take three weeks to get anything meaningful out of the system. With that lag time, it didn't matter what a report said," Carras comments.
The time lag between data input and output also delayed month-end closing times because of adjustments to accommodate slow-arriving sales reports from licensees.
"Since it took three weeks, they were never quite sure the numbers were right," Carras says.
To address these problems, NFL Properties launched two projects: OLAP data tools for faster and customized reporting and an extranet to help gather licensee product data.
Carras had experience with OLAP tools and was confident the technology fitted the NFL's needs. The company picked Hurricane Technology Partners' LicenseNet extranet because of its ease of use and easy customization.
In November 1997, the company completed its six-month installation of Applix's TM1 OLAP tools. The TM1 product has a spreadsheet front end that ties into a sales database powered by Microsoft's SQL Server, a Sybase RDBMS transactional system, and Smartstream General Ledger.
In February 1997, the company began implementing its extranet-based reporting system to its 60 largest licensees, going live with it in May 1998. Fifty more licensees are scheduled to start using it by the end of this season.
From their spreadsheets, financial analysts can customize reports and obtain information in minutes. NFL Properties now can measure the sales of a particular product during the season and take action depending on profit or loss in midseason. This helps analysts accurately estimate local-market and enterprisewide budgets several times a season.
OLAP's seemingly infinite analytical models also present the NFL with the possibility of looking past a product's sales figures to determine the reasons for its success or failure, such as sales location or product color, says Mike Mehos, program analyst.
"If you know a particular jersey is doing well, then you can isolate the reasons behind it and create more products like it in the future," Carras adds.
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