Q&A: Jay Riola, Orlando Magic, says innovation focus no accident as team hosts challenge

Orlando Magic innovation has a reputation as one of the more tech-forward thinking franchises in the NBA has been well earned.

The Magic was the first in the league to accept Apple Pay way back in 2014.

Not long after that, they installed 900 beacons at the Amway Center. This decreased the amount of time it took for fans to buy concessions or merchandise and find exits.

In 2018, a partnership with Uber brought them into the ride-sharing business.

It’s a responsibility the team’s EVP of Strategy and Innovation Jay Riola takes seriously, with the Magic naming innovation as a core value for its team.

“We promote a culture of creative thinking and foster an environment where employees are encouraged to take risks to achieve breakthrough results,” said Riola, 38.

Sports Business Journal last year named Riola one of the industry’s “40 Under 40.”

“We try to create opportunities for Magic staff to develop new ideas and solutions, as well as listening to others externally with new and different perspectives, for inspiration and ideas or solutions,” he said.

Orlando Tech News chatted with Riola before the Orlando Magic Innovation Challenge, the team’s latest innovation.

The event last weekend brought the city’s community of innovators together to tackle business challenges the organization faces.

Orlando Tech News: How does this event enhance the Magic’s role in the community and offer opportunities for your staff?

Jay Riola: “The Challenge is a great way to realize (Magic staff’s ideas), publicly demonstrate our commitment to innovation and engage the broader Central Florida innovation community in a fun and engaging way.”

OTN: This is the second year, of course. What was it about last year’s event that encouraged you to bring it back?

JR: “Our goal last year was simply to produce the event, engage the local innovation community and hear some ideas that could potentially enhance our business and fan experiences. The participants’ engagement, creativity and quality of pitches blew us away.”

OTN: How did that and feedback inform this year’s event?

JR: “We listened to the feedback and this year we did a reverse-pitch style event, where we are sharing six specific business challenges facing the Orlando Magic’s business operations and asking participants to develop and pitch solutions that address those areas. This helps provide more definition and structure. It also ensures that the pitch concepts are valuable to us as an organization.”

OTN: How does this approach fit in with the NBA’s approach to innovation?

JR: “The NBA is incredibly innovative and does an amazing job encouraging and cultivating innovation with fans and its teams. The league has hosted data and analytics hackathons, innovation challenges and has its NBA Launchpad, which evaluates emerging technologies that advance basketball and business priorities.”

OTN: Do teams share their work and grow the league together?

JR: “Yes, the NBA supports and facilitates best practice sharing among teams. This event has prompted several other professional sports teams to reach out and hear more about the event and its results.”

OTN: Can you talk a little bit about Central Florida’s tech community and the Magic’s role within it?

JR: “This region has a fantastic innovation and tech community. From startup to corporate innovation, to higher education and non-profit organizations like the Orlando Economic Partnership and their Orlando Tech Community, or Synapse. There are so many ways to participate and get involved both as an individual and as a company.”

OTN: What can having an event like the challenge contribute to this region?

JR: “The challenge brings together participants from all different backgrounds and provide them opportunities for collaboration and networking. So, the event is really a great opportunity not only to source new ideas for the Magic but also to strengthen Orlando’s innovation ecosystem. We see this as another opportunity to step forward as a community leader in tech and innovation.”