For the 2018-2019 NBA season, the Sacramento Kings finished with their best record since 2005 – at 39-43. While the team hasn’t made a playoff appearance since their 2005-postseason run, its executives are hell-bent on driving change through other means.
“From the first day that [co-owner Vivek Ranadivé] purchased the team [in 2013], he really wanted us to have innovation as part of our DNA,” Kings Chief Technology Officer Ryan Montoya said. “He started off with the big vision of NBA 3.0, which was that we could be the franchise of the 21st century.”
Entering the 2019-2020 season, Sacramento has established itself as a prominent figure in the NBA’s pursuit of innovation. In 2014, the Kings became the first NBA team to accept Bitcoin as a form of payment in the Golden 1 Center. Four years later, it was the first professional sports club in the world to mine cryptocurrency – culminating with MiningForGood, a charitable program that donates those funds to workplace development and training efforts around the community.
Now, as the NBA’s first blockchain-powered reward program, Sacramento has added a new reward program as an improvement to the NBA’s first predictive gaming application, “Call the Shot.”
Call the Shot enables fans to predict the outcomes of game quarters, player performance and allows them to engage with any NBA team. Offering in-app prize opportunities with no purchases needed to participate, it’s the NBA’s first mobile feature that offers high-frequency predictive gaming to fans.
For about three years, the Kings have incorporated Call the Shot into their mobile app, said Montoya. With legalized sports betting becoming more prominent, the team has been using Call the Shot to prepare its fans for it.
Now, the Kings’ latest upgrade comes courtesy of a partnership with blockchain-company Blockparty.
With the Kings, Blockparty aims to use its blockchain technology to track fans’ engagement. They can earn points in a virtual wallet within the Sacramento Kings + Golden 1 Center app. They can then turn use points earned from Call the Shot – which allows free enrollment and rewards are non-transferable with no monetary value – to earn rewards. Rewards can be redeemed for items like signed merchandise and courtside tickets.
Even though it never previously partnered with a sports organization, Blockparty saw the Kings’ business reputation as a reason for optimism, said Chief Operating Officer Vlad Ginzburg. After the two companies met at a tech conference in early 2018, Montoya reached out to Blockparty about having it help the Kings further their technological push.
These changes have helped Sacramento become globally recognized by the sports industry. In 2016, the Kings were named the “Most Innovative Company in Sports” by Fast Company and the “Best Elite Sports Facility or Venue” at the 2017 Sports Technology Awards in London.
“We’ve certainly spoken to pro sports teams in other leagues and other continents – we find ourselves doing a lot of explaining about why blockchain, tokens, etc.,” said Ginzburg. “With the Sacramento Kings, it’s completely the opposite. When we’re in their offices, we’re listening. The extent of their understanding of technology and the extent to which they see where this is all going and they see the future of fan engagement – we find ourselves more interested in listening to what they have to say and making sure that we can deliver it from our end.”
Despite the inroads that both Blockparty and the Kings have made with bringing blockchain knowledge to the masses, the subject is still shrouded in misunderstanding, said Matt Zarracina. As the Co-Founder and CEO of True Tickets, a tech company with a product built from IBM Blockchain, Zarracina – like Blockparty and the Kings – is working to help the public comprehend the complexity surrounding blockchain.
Once they become more educated on blockchain, that’s when people can begin to see its benefits and walk away from the skepticism. Especially when they begin to see the positives that can come from a Blockparty-Kings partnership.
“It’s more of a token-rewards-type program, which I think that’s one of the aspects we’re watching,” Zarracina said. “It can definitely have an impact if you’re looking at the tokenization of loyalty points. I think that’s one of the areas where you can see an efficiency gain.”
Outside of its blockchain involvement, the Kings are still striving to improve the fan experience through technology. For their home opener on October 25, the team partnered with tech firm Zippin on an 800-square-foot convenience store where payments were both cashless and interaction-free. According to the team, a fan could buy an item – like popcorn or draft beer – from there and leave the store in less than 30 seconds.
To use the convenience store, fans have to download the Zippin app or swipe their credit card when entering. Zippin’s artificial intelligence technology and cameras can immediately identify what items people took from the shelves and charge them while they’re leaving – either through the app or directly from their card if they choose to have it scanned.
This is the Kings’ latest venture in maximizing the fan’s experience while they’re attending basketball games. When the Golden 1 Center opened in September 2016, it was designed so a fan could visit the arena with only their phone and not have to use any cash, said Montoya. With more venues – such as Mercedes Benz-Stadium and Tropicana Field – following in Sacramento’s footsteps, it’s evidence of an emerging world for sports fans.
“This is the future,” Montoya said. “Our mission is to find every friction point in this arena and to remove all those friction points. With the checkout-free system, it’s very simple – people go in, they select their product and they walk out so they don’t have to stand in line to wait to purchase a beer. It’s all seamless, it’s all intuitive and it’s frictionless so that it saves them time so that they can then go and continue to enjoy their experience.”