You don’t have to spend much time comparing to see that the NBA is the most technologically advanced sports league in the world. When held up against the likes of the MLS, NFL, or NHL, basketball’s interest in and commitment to technology is the most pronounced at every level. From player monitoring to stadium organization, the NBA is throwing investment into tech and is reaping the rewards.
The NBA’s ascension as a model for technological proficiency began, as Forbes highlights, when former league commissioner David Stern ‘didn’t charge China’s government-run TV channel a dime to broadcast NBA games in 1987, knowing that getting more eyeballs - especially ones from overseas - on his product is more important than going for the quick buck.’ The NBA clips that the league allows social media users to upload are an extension of this principle - they act as free commercials for the league, a trick more copyright-stringent leagues seem to have entirely missed.
And, in a league that clearly values the relationship between technology and sport, it’s the Sacramento Kings that may just be the most tech-savvy. Owned by software company Tibco CEO Vivek Ranadive, the franchise may be the oldest in the NBA, but it’s setting technological precedents, culminating in the opening of its new Golden 1 Center home. The Kings have traded in their 28-year home - the Sleep Train Arena - for the new multi-purpose, $556.6 million Golden 1 Center just 6.1 miles south.
If the NBA follows technology religiously, the Golden 1 is a cathedral. Ranadive calls it the ‘Tesla of arenas,’ and indeed the technological triumphs of the stadium are many. Fans can order food from their seat, find the bathroom with the shortest line, there is enough bandwidth to support a stadium four times as big, and a Walt Disney Co. engineer has designed the world’s largest indoor video scoreboard specifically to minimize eye movement, according to The Sacramento Bee. The paper also claims that the current ‘smart turnstiles’ - that fans simply tap their cellphones onto to find their seats - will eventually be replaced by facial recognition technology, all but eliminating the need for tickets, ‘digital or otherwise.’
For the fans, the interaction with the technological features of the new arena will primarily happen in the new, dedicated app. The Kings’ mobile app is by far the most developed in the NBA, with added capabilities like in-built Uber services, live scores, highlights and data visualization regarding the game in-play. Uber itself will feature a ‘Kings-branded icon in its own app for users in Sacramento,’ according to GeekWire, to make it easier for fans to get to and from the stadium on game days.
Back in January, the Kings became the first professional sports franchise to allow ticket purchasing with Bitcoin. Customers can use Bitcoin in the team's retail store and to buy tickets for upcoming games - Ranadive told ESPN.com that it was his children that had given him the idea having questioned why Bitcoin wasn’t accepted at other franchises. And, in another first, the Kings recently became the first NBA team to utilize chatbot technology - in partnership with JiffyBots - within Facebook Messenger in the hope of ‘personalizing the fan experience and strengthening that bond,’ Kings CTO Ryan Montoya told GeekWire.
The Kings’ performance on the court has largely been disappointing since the early 2000s, finishing in a decade-high third last season. As a business, though, the franchise is pushing the envelope of how sports can best integrate technology. The expensively erected Golden 1 Center is likely to be just the first in a coming wave of digital-heavy sports stadiums. The ‘Tesla of arenas’ will be serving fans Ranadive’s personalized experience this coming season and, if early reviews are anything to go by, the transition these tech-savvy game-goers will be a smooth one.