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Golden State Warriors Turn to Viber to Enhance Fan Experience

The Warriors and Viber are only in the second year of their partnership, but the NBA team has already capitalized on Viber’s diverse user base.

Bailey Knecht

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Photo via Rakuten Viber

As one of the most popular teams in the NBA, the Golden State Warriors have a surplus of fans and followers from across the world. In an effort to cultivate more personalized connections with fans, though, the Warriors’ digital department has shifted some of its attention to a more intimate mode of communication: Viber.

The instant messaging and calling app is powered by Japanese tech company Rakuten and is the official app partner of the Warriors. Through the partnership, fans can take advantage of features including sticker packs, weekly trivia contests and an official Warriors chatbot that provides information like game schedules, score updates, and team content.

“The NBA is very attractive from an international fan base perspective, so from the Warriors’ perspective, we want to participate in that conversation where it feels natural,” said Jeremy Thum, senior director of digital experience at the Warriors. “Fans with a mobile device have access to information anytime, anywhere. Sports teams and, hopefully, the Warriors, are a passion brand, and there is an interest in following along at the convenience of the fan.”

The Warriors and Viber are now in the second year of their partnership, but the Warriors have been able to capitalize on Viber’s diverse user-base from the very beginning.

READ MORE: Jennifer Azzi Is Growing the Game of Basketball All Over the World

“There is an existing user base of the Rakuten Viber messaging app in markets that the Warriors’ brand has not seen quite as much penetration in, and that is attractive to us,” Thum said.

The Warriors’ chatbot has 550,000 subscribers and is available in multiple languages, which plays into the Warriors’ dedication to being a global franchise.

“The great thing is we can communicate directly with those fans in markets that are different from markets traditionally known as NBA markets, or outside of the traditional Golden State Warriors fans,” said Bridget Rusk, business development and partnerships director at Viber. “We are able to communicate in their local language.”

The messaging aspect is important when it comes to humanizing the Warriors’ brand and creating two-way engagements with fans around the globe.

“Messaging apps try to perpetuate engagement on gamedays and non-gamedays, and it’s a way for teams or leagues or influencers to keep momentum around fan experiences,” said Rusk. “What we’re seeing is that messaging is serving as the primary platform for sharing information and thoughts and feelings with fans’ closest friends and family. They tap into that, and they share with people they love.”

Viber’s expertise as a messaging provider proved to be especially beneficial when it came time for the Warriors to release their sticker packs, which feature players, coaches and team logos.

“If we had launched this alone, we may not have understood, as a first user, the importance of the use of stickers by the existing Viber user base,” said Thum. “We’ve been able to create and showcase the players and their personalities, which allows fans to have conversations with their friends and family utilizing Warriors imagery in a fun and cool way.”

Viber also strives to offer more than the traditional messaging app by “gamifying” the fan experience and driving fan interactions with features like Weekly Trivia, where fans can challenge their friends in Warriors trivia contests.

“This interactivity, especially with Tuesday Trivia, feels sort of like a game or competition, and it’s fun,” Thum said.

“People, by nature, are competitive, so to be able to play a game and have fun and compete with friends is naturally something people want to spend their time doing,” added Rusk.

Between chatbots, sticker packs and interactive games, messaging apps like Viber stand out from social media platforms by offering a distinct method of reaching fans.

“With social media, it’s amazing to me because it hasn’t been around that long, but it feels like it’s reaching its maturity in terms of how brands use it,” Thum said. “But messaging still feels like we’re still figuring it out, and it’s an exciting, different way of communicating. The one-to-one basis, small group-chat type of interaction is increasing, so for our brand to step into that in an authentic way is exciting, and it feels like the early days on social.”

Thum pointed out that, although the Viber partnership signals a newfound emphasis on messaging, the Warriors are still just as dedicated to their social presence as always.

With this relatively new shift toward messaging, though, it’s crucial for the Warriors to be in the loop at various stages of Viber’s development process so the organizations can collaborate on how to better serve fans.

READ MORE: Bulls Strive to Digitally Innovate While Honoring Their Past

“The great thing about the partnership is we get to work with Viber on the platform with updates and get to understand the product roadmap and see how we can take advantage of that for keeping our fan base engaged,” Thum said.

“We’re constantly evolving this experience and adding to it,” Rusk added. “One feature that will be out very soon is a personalized chatbot experience so users can personalize the content feed with the type of content they want and how regularly they want to receive it. The second is utilizing a product launched last year called Communities, which essentially is the ability for users to join into a large conversation, or to follow along with content like the content feed experience.”

The latest Viber rollout allows fans to connect with team personnel in a unique way with Warriors’ assistant coach Mike Brown taking part in a Q&A session with questions submitted by fans via the Viber chatbot.

Personalized experiences like those are instrumental in providing fans the opportunity to connect with teams beyond simply watching games on TV.

“It feels more authentic,” Thum said. “We’re able to create a feeling that, if you’re interacting with the Warriors’ brand on a one-to-one basis, that touchpoint is different than having a message that’s intended for millions.”

Bailey Knecht is a Northeastern University graduate and has worked for New Balance, the Boston Bruins and the Northeastern and UMass Lowell athletic departments. She covers media and marketing for Front Office Sports, with an emphasis on women's sports and basketball. She can be contacted at bailey@frntofficesport.com.

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How a Camera System Helped Yale Make the Big Dance

A video system called Keemotion didn’t make a single shot or pass all season. But the Bulldogs might not have made the NCAA Tournament without it.

Mike Piellucci

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Photo Credit: Matt Stamey-USA TODAY Sports

Ordinarily, a camera system wouldn’t receive much credit for Yale basketball completing perhaps the greatest season in program history. According to head coach James Jones, however, a state-of-the-art platform called Keemotion was a valuable behind-the-scenes resource during the Bulldogs’ success this season, in which Yale won the Ivy League, captured its first-ever conference tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament for just the fifth time in school history.

“Would we have gotten to the Tournament if we didn’t have it? I’d like to think we would have,” he says. “But at the same time, I know that it’s helpful, too, for my guys to be able to learn from… It’s just a great tool to have.”

READ MORE: Gene Steratore Wants To Show Fans The Human Side Of Officials

In the words of its CEO Milton Lee, Keemotion is “a fully automated video production ecosystem” involving a series of anywhere from three to seven cameras positioned across the court which capture video and can replay it almost instantaneously on a tablet. The utility of that service depends on the client. According to Lee, who came to Keemotion after five years with the Brooklyn Nets, the company offers four tiers of service to clients ranging from the professional ranks all the way down to high school athletics. Depending on the client’s resources, Keemotion has been everything from a social media aid to a livestream service to an instant replay tool for referees to a coaching tool – and, as Lee notes, the company hopes “our ultimate client would use all of our [services].”

For Yale, it fills one especially well. Jones estimates he’s used the Keemotion for roughly five years, primarily as a basketball operations assistant for a program that, like most non-Power Five schools, often struggles to recruit dependable student volunteers.

“We would film practice every so often [but] it was difficult for us sometimes to find a manager and this system allows us to just not have to worry about that,” he says. “[It gives us] that carefree ability to just watch.”

And, from there, his players learn. Jones watches cut-ups after each session to help him tweak and adjust his own strategies for the next day. But the service also allows him to better hold his players accountable for bad habits. “Every kid in the world — no one’s ever committed a foul, no one’s ever turned the ball over,” he says, wryly, and now he can provide a visual demonstration in real time whenever they do. More than that, though, it streamlines communication in an environment where coaches are only permitted a set number of hours to train their players each week.

“It takes away a lot of the confusion that some guys had with their play,” Jones says. “And then there’s the teaching aspect of it, where, again, some guys think they’re doing something and they’re not.”

Perhaps its greatest impact of all is on the players with the most to gain. While starters and key rotation players get the luxury of live game reps to dissect on tape, other reserves or young players who languish on the bench not only lose out on in-game experience but also the future study opportunities it affords. The less pivotal the player, the greater importance the system takes on.

READ MORE: Despite Exit, David Levy’s Presence Looms Large Over March Madness

“A lot of times, you have guys that don’t ever play in games, and you need to be able to teach them from video,” he says. “We cut tape up, and we show them what they’re doing in practice because they don’t have that game footage to help them get better.”

Jones says he can envision a world in which, rules permitting, he someday taps into Keemotion during games by way of reviewing tape at halftime on the tablet. Doing so would represent one of the most advanced steps yet within the growing trend to weave in faster, more comprehensive data to enhance team performance.

It’s hardly the catalyst for the Bulldogs’ success. Like any platform, it has limitations – and, at the end of the day, cameras don’t coach basketball games. Still, Jones says, “it all goes hand in hand.” And for a basketball team that punches above its weight, Jones will take all the hands he can get.

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Sparta Science Works to Prevent Injuries through Smarter Tech

A strength and conditioning coach-turned-doctor believes he can prevent injuries before they happen through better, smarter science.

Jarrod Barnes

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Photo Courtesy: Sparta Sports

According to a study from Stanford University Children’s Health, more than 3.5 million children ages 14 and younger get hurt annually playing sports or participating in recreational activities. As competition and performance increase, so does the risk for injury. During the 2018 NFL Season, there were 57 ACL tears and 131 MCL tears.

Dr. Phil Wagner, CEO of Sparta Science, wants to change that. In 2009, he set out with a mission to better understand the human body, and not only find out why injuries were happening but also what could be done to prevent and even predict them.

Sparta Science uses a force-plate system powered by AI and machine-learning software called the Sparta Scan that documents and collects 3,000 data points per second, recording information to produce a unique movement signature for each user. The scan is comprised of three assessments — the jump, balance and plank scan. These track three distinct measurements: The user’s “load,” or ability to generate force; “explode,” or ability to transfer force; and “drive,” or ability to express force over time. Each test clocks in around 60 seconds, allowing Sparta to test large groups in mere minutes. The results assess movement health and injury risk in a matter of seconds while also providing data-driven exercise prescriptions that increase resilience, minimize injury risk and optimize rehabilitation to return to physical activity.

READ MORE: Twitter and TNT to Offer Unique NBA Viewing Experience

“We’re trying to instill good habits that go beyond strength training” says Wagner. “It is a big difference-maker when technology can help you be more resilient… [and assigns] the right program that can both improve performance and reduce injury at the same time.”

It’s the type of life Wagner couldn’t have imagined for himself. Wagner grew up in Berkeley, Calif., but never envisioned getting involved in the tech world despite only being about an hour from Silicon Valley.

“I grew up playing sports in a different realm but became drawn to this because of injuries and limitations. I did not have any answers into why this was happening,” says Wagner.

He broke into the sports world as a strength and conditioning coach for schools like Cal and UCLA before going overseas to work for professional rugby teams in New Zealand and Australia. Eventually, he decided his existing knowledge base only did so much to allow him to prevent injuries rather than merely treat existing ones. So, he says, “I went to medical school to better understand the human body and learn evidence-based research in order to effectively apply that back into injury prevention,” ultimately graduating with an M.D. from USC with a focus on biomechanics. 

It provided the backbone for Sparta Science, which has raised $9.7 million in funding to date and worked with teams within leagues including the NFL, NBA, MLB, and MLS. Information also plays a key role: Sparta uses scan data collected from over 900,000 athletes and counting to predict ACL and lower-extremity injuries. So do customized, multi-layered workout programs.

The endgame is a regimen that is data-rich but malleable to different clients.

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“We use Sparta Scans as part of our screening protocol here at the Institute to provide us with quick, actionable information that can help us better understand each and every athlete we work with,” says Dr. Mark Kovacs, CEO of the Kovacs Institute for Sport and Human Performance, “The three scans provide meaningful information that we use in our data-driven program design to help personalize our training for every athlete.”

Wagner has no shortage of target growth areas for the future outside of scanning. The company continues to expand into talent identification and has set its sights on stroke rehabilitation, knee and hip replacements. It even presented a case study from the NBA Draft at this year’s South by Southwest conference. Wagner isn’t afraid to branch outside of sports, either: He counts the Department of Defense as one of the company’s largest customers and says “the armed forces have approached us and want to identify potential weaknesses.”

It’s an unusual trajectory, which fits well with Wagner’s circuitous path through the sports medicine world. When asked to define his career journey, all he could do was laugh, before offering a word to sum it all up: “Unbelievable.” He hopes the same will be someday said about Sparta Science’s influence on sports medicine and health and fitness landscape.

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Whistle Signals an Official Call to Action Within the Sports Landscape

The platform allows for a streamlined process for connecting referees to upcoming sports events while also providing a network to foster growth and support for aspiring officials.

Max Simpson

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Photo credit: Whistle

Sports are everywhere in today’s culture. The countless memories that they provide are far-reaching and impact much of how we choose to focus our attention. They serve not only as a driving force of dynamic entertainment, but they also offer a way to shape values and mold future generations. Sports have to start somewhere. Like most lifelong endeavors, the best place to begin is at the youth level.

As a kid, you may think there isn’t much to starting a sports league or organizing an official game. You need the proper field, the equipment, and teammates to play with and a team to play against. Yet, what is stopping these complex operations from turning to absolute mayhem? A referee.

In the United States, there are over 100 million amateur sporting events every year that rely on referees to do their job of maintaining order. Be that as it may, the lack of convenience and active available officials are threatening the sports landscape across the world. Referees are oft-forgotten within the structure of sports, particularly at the youth level. That is, until they are thrust into the spotlight on the receiving end of verbal — and worst case, physical — abuse from a host of players and even parents.

Until recently, referees have had to weather these harsh conditions, in addition to inadequate pay and difficulty finding consistent work in less-organized associations. They’re still waiting weeks, sometimes months, to get paid, haven’t had a reliable platform to increase advancement opportunities and offer feedback from their experience directly to the organization.

Enter Whistle.

Founded in 2017 by Oliver Barton, Whistle serves aspiring referees and established sports organizations twofold: Referees are able to select preferences such as sport to officiate, distance to event, and days available in order to maximize their official ratings and build their pedigree. In turn, organizers are able to easily create upcoming events, manage officials’ schedules, rate referee performances, and ultimately expand their officiating network for future events.

READ MORE: Why the Sports Industry Could Include the First 5G Beneficiaries 

“Similar to everyday apps like Lyft and Uber, Whistle allows for both parties [referees and organizations] to rate each other in order to produce a better environment for everybody involved,” said Barton. “This is especially helpful for both experienced and inexperienced referees as they will have the ability to raise issues, as well as see if there is a prior history of abuse at certain leagues or tournaments.

Barton’s inspiration for Whistle was originally forged in the United Kingdom. He grew up playing soccer throughout his childhood and into adolescence. The sport was a vital part of the culture then and still is today as over 50,000 referees are needed to officiate Sunday league games throughout the country on a weekly basis. One incident that helped to forge Barton’s appreciation for officials came as his identity within the sports landscape was taking place.

“My first encounter with what referees have to go through occurred when I was 12 years old,” recalled Barton. “My brother, who was 14 at the time, attended one of my games that ended controversially. After the match concluded, he yelled abuse at the referee and was promptly banned from playing for a portion of games. Upon returning, he never talked back to referees again.”

Upon immigrating to the United States in 2016 after meeting his wife, Barton’s perspective of sports was further widened. He noted a system where the sports-participation rate was far more expansive than the United Kingdom, and even Europe, yet the alarming shortage of officials dominated headlines. That’s when he gave birth to Whistle and set out on his vision to make sports officiating universally accessible to everybody.

In October 2017, Los Angeles-based Hickory VC helped to jumpstart the company with pre-seed funding. Early investors Chris Webb and Jake Ireland, both of whom played college basketball, saw Whistle as a solution that the sports world desperately needs.

“What stood out to us about Whistle was the untapped and overlooked global officiating market they were going after,” said Ireland, Hickory VC Managing Partner. “The lack of accessible, quality sports officials has impacted each and every one of us in some way (whether as a fan, participant, coach or parent), and this worsening problem has major ramifications for sports participation at all ages. Whistle is the solution the sports world desperately needs. If we stick to the game plan and continue to execute, we’ll be the industry leader in the not so distant future.”

With the momentum building, Whistle’s soft launch took place in May 2018. Soon after, the partnerships began rolling in. Hoopla, the second largest 3×3 basketball tournament of its kind which hosts 1,000 teams, 4,000 participants, and 900 volunteers, brought on Whistle as Game Official Management Partner. In July of that year, Dean Blandino, FOX Sports’ NFL and college football rules analyst and former NFL SVP of officiating, joined Whistle’s board of directors.

“The passion for officiating and connecting with people in order to improve the officiating space was mutual between Whistle and myself,” said Blandino. “Whistle serves as a win-win for both organizers and officials in helping to provide a sense of quality-control amongst for sports events. The goal is to build a network of referee mentorship and become a one-stop shop for connecting aspiring officials to those who have the experience willing to show them the ropes.”

In September 2018, SportsEngine, an NBC Sports Group company and the leading youth sports technology provider, added Whistle to its online marketplace of sports-related services. This addition allows Whistle to directly integrate its platform of aligning vetted officials directly to the youth sports’ league schedules.

“Adding Whistle to the SportsEngine Marketplace is part of our ongoing commitment to provide value-added benefits, along with a comprehensive suite of solutions, for more than one million youth sports clubs, leagues, governing bodies and associations,” said Rick Ehrman, vice president of corporate development. “Whistle’s partnership is a perfect fit as we continue to find new and innovative solutions that help teams manage and simplify their sports lives.”

READ MORE: Immersive Media’s Infancy Creates Industry Opportunities

Whistle has also expanded its portfolio to older sports enthusiasts. LASportsNet, the largest social sports organization in Los Angeles containing a network of adult, co-ed sports leagues, is just the latest to turn to Whistle as it continues to expand the programs. And today, Whistle announced that it acquired local competitor Rent-A-Ref.

“No one before has truly explored the full potential of utilizing technology to bridge the gap between finding game-ready officials and providing online training and mentoring for less experienced officials,” said Michael Radchuk, founder of Rent-A-Ref and current league and referee development with Whistle. “I strongly believe that this market is very untapped. After speaking with Oliver and the leadership team at Whistle, it was a no-brainer to combine forces.”

With these developments and acquisitions, Whistle still has big plans ahead. With a full launch scheduled for mid-2019, Whistle has currently surpassed 10,000 signups and mobile downloads to date as it now kicks off the formal seed round of financing.

The platform is operated across the country including states such as California, New York, and recently Florida. The future is bright for Whistle and for aspiring officials down the road looking to continue and grow the future participation of sports.

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