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Can A Mid-Rate NBA Team Redefine The Fan Experience?

For an unsuccessful sports franchise, it can be hard to win fans back to the hometown cause. In California’s professional basketball scene, the game is almost rigged against the Sacramento Kings — not only do the Los Angeles Lakers draw more national fans on legacy alone, the Bay Area’s Golden State Warriors are the defending league champions and haven’t showed any signs of slowing down yet. So, what’s a losing franchise to do in order to draw fans back into the seats?

Dazzle them with the highest tech sports arena the U.S. has ever seen.

That’s the mission behind Golden 1 Center, the new multi-use stadium under construction by Sacramento Kings’ owner, Vivek Ranadivé. Competing on the court has proven difficult for a team mired in coaching challenges and poor draft choices, but designing the most fan-friendly arena in the NBA should be familiar ground for Ranadivé, former CEO of real-time data analysis firm TIBCO. In fact, Re/code reported that despite breaking ground in 2014, Golden 1 Center is slated to open in time for the start of the 2016–2017 NBA season — a full year ahead of schedule.

What will fans experience when they walk through the doors next season? A Kings’ release detailed the dozens upon dozens of granular ways the arena was designed to integrate seamlessly with the way modern NBA fans watch games, and beacons comprise a subtle-yet-powerful arm of the package. Reminiscent of Ranadivé’s background, Golden 1 Center is dotted with beacons and other real-time sensors that feed information back to a 6,000-square-foot “command center.” From there, the data is crunched so fans can check their phones for everything from how long the lines at the bathrooms are to directions to the concession stand on the top floor that still has their favorites snacks in stock — don’t worry, in-app purchases and order pickup are built in. Fans can also use their devices as “second screens” to access real-time statistics and analysis instead of waiting for the post-game announcements, adding yet another platform full of engagement opportunities for the Kings and its marketing partners alike.

And in case its own in-house data analysis fails, a Wi-Fi network that can process 500,000 Snapchat or 225,000 Instagram posts per second covers the arena from top to bottom.

“We believe that this will be one of the top-performing venues not just in the country but in the world,” Ranadivé told Re/code. “[The tech] just drives more demand for coming to a game. That’s the place to be seen.”

The short game for Ranadivé is clear: If the team doesn’t draw in ticket revenue, maybe a stadium fancier than the floor at CES will. But the long game? Investing upwards of $284 million on Golden 1 Center for an attendance boost until the roster comes together seems irresponsible, but could there be something in the long-term future of the NBA and all professional sports in general that Ranadivé might actually be planning for with an arena equipped to handle the digital behaviors of tens of thousands of fans night after night?

If NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s long-stated support for and recent comments to ESPN on gambling in the NBA are any indication, that answer is a resounding yes.

“One of the reasons I’ve been pushing to legalize sports betting is not because that I’m necessarily an advocate of sports betting, it’s because all the research shows that it’s a multi-hundred-billion dollar business just in the United States right now,” the commissioner said. “In terms of the integrity of the sports leagues, it’s only bad news for us when it continues to remain underground … [to] the extent there are fantasy sites or flat-out betting sites, where consumers identify themselves by putting credit cards in and then can be tracked the same way the stock market can track buying and selling, then that’s much healthier for the leagues.”

With daily fantasy sites currently tied up in the courts in several states, gambling might not be right around the corner in the NBA, but if (or when, according to Silver) it occurs, few arenas around the league will have the IT infrastructure in place to support thousands of real-time bets being made on the next free throw or the next possession.

Few, that is, except for Ranadivé’s Golden 1 Center.

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