Athletic Department innovates with QR codes

by Carl Setterlund / Beacon Staff • January 23, 2014

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The new QR code system will cut down on the number of programs that will need to be printed out.
The new QR code system will cut down on the number of programs that will need to be printed out.

With the rise of smart phones, tablets, and the apps that accompany them, those with high-tech gear now have the ability to scan quick response, or QR, codes, leading to an increase in the everyday usefulness of the two-dimensional barcodes that can redirect phones to a specific URL.

Now, count the Emerson College athletic department among those using this technology to move into the future. A posting on the official Emerson athletics website on Dec. 18 announced that as of Jan. 4, all game-day programs are accessible on phones, tablets, and laptops via QR codes.

The codes currently provide expanded programs for all men and women’s basketball home games, and will also be available for the men’s volleyball season, covering all winter sports.

This move toward sustainability was the brainchild of the department’s most recent hire, athletic administrator Lindsay DeStefano — a 2008 Emerson graduate — who was a junior captain on the softball team when it made its first ever NCAA Division 3 Tournament appearance.

“This was probably the first thing that I brought to [interim athletic director Stan Nance’s] attention, and it’s easy,” said DeStefano, whom Nance hired in October. “We didn’t need any money for it.”

Flyers with QR codes have been posted prominently throughout the Bobbi Brown and Steven Plofker Gym. DeStefano said attendees can find QR code flyers on the doors to both levels of the gym, in the SkyBox, on the floor-level bulletin board, and on the back wall at the far end of the court.

“We don’t have to print out 50 programs anymore,” said DeStefano, who now only makes 10 programs per game. But the benefits go beyond sustainability. “At the same time, it allows us to include more information and more up-to-date information, just to give fans a better experience.”

DeStefano said she became aware of QR codes in college sports through her fiancé, who works as an administrator for the American Athletic Conference, a Division 1 conference founded in 2013 that is comprised predominantly of teams formerly belonging to the Big East and Conference-USA. She said several large conferences and Division 1 colleges, along with a handful of Division 3 schools, already use QR codes.

“It’s still kind of in the infancy,” said DeStefano, who offered that game operations staff will help fans with tutorials. “A lot of people don’t know what it is, a lot of people don’t know how to use it, so I think we have to build the notoriety and teach people how to use it, but we’re getting there.”

As a happy consequence of Emerson’s move toward QR codes, the Piano Row gym is now one of the few locations on campus that offers unrestricted wireless internet access. DeStefano realized that parents and other outside attendees wouldn’t be able to use a password-protected wifi network, so she contacted the Information Technology department and had a guest account set up before the semester began. DeStefano said IT helped out immediately.

It also helps that Emerson, like all New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference teams, uses PrestoSports, a prominent hosting site that specializes in college athletic websites. DeStefano said Presto automatically creates a QR code for each specific web page it hosts.

“All I had to do was get it from them and they make it really easy,” DeStefano said.

DeStefano said the plan is to focus on providing QR codes for games held at the Brown and Plofker Gym, but doesn’t expect a rollout at Rotch Field just yet. DeStefano she doesn’t want to get ahead of herself, but said she hopes to provide a digital copy of the softball team’s media guide.

Along with eventually doing QR codes for all sports, DeStefano said another long-term goal is to make the virtual program interactive.

“Putting them online gives us an endless canvas to do whatever we want,” DeStefano said. “I think the sustainability committee was really into it, so I think it’s had some positive reactions. At the same time, people aren’t necessarily used to it, so we’ve had some fans unsure of what to do and how to use a QR code. It goes both ways, but with any change comes growing pains.”