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Tech pioneer reinvents pro basketball team as a social network

Posting in Technology
When you're a professional athlete and you play your home games in a place called, I kid you not, the Sleep Train Arena, you'd probably be thankful for anything that management tried to jolt awake the public's attention.

Thus, the guys who shoot, dribble, pass, block and rebound for the Sacramento Kings must be full of gratitude for their new owner Vivek Ranadivé. 

Those of you who follow the heavy blocking and tackling of information technology might already know Ranadivé as the guy who founded TIBCO Software, known for transmitting financial data and other rapidly changing and numerically intense material - like sports scores - across networks.

Ranadivé purchased the Kings earlier this year for $534 million, endearing himself to local fans by promising keep the squad in Sacramento for 35 years. Other prospective owners might have uprooted the tall ball players and plonked them down in another city, as is the peripatetic money-making ways of the sports business.

But this was no ordinary acquisition. As Wired magazine notes in a feature story, Ranadivé, with his technology, hopes to redefine what it means to be a professional sports team. He wants the Kings, who play in the National Basketball Association (NBA), to lead a new "NBA 3.0" as they become a social media network, raising global awareness and loyalty - and revenue from merchandising and all those other things.

“We have an opportunity to make basketball the premier sport of the 21st century,” Ranadive says. “Kind of like what soccer was in the 20th century (writer's note to U.S. readers - soccer yes soccer is the world's most popular sport). "With technology you can expand social networks, you can give people an opportunity to participate and identify with it in ways that haven’t been done before....When I look at the business of basketball, it’s more than basketball. It’s really a social network. You can use technology to capture that network, expand it, engage it, and then, obviously, to monetize it."

Wired describes the plan as "a complete rethinking of how fans interact with and follow the game, especially in the developing world."

Here's a taster of how it works, as described by Wired and Ranadivé, who believes his plan will turn the Kings into an enterprise worth far more than $534 million:

Ranadive, the first Indian-born majority owner of an NBA franchise, believes that’s a fraction of what the franchise will eventually be worth. He’s wasted no time implementing his plan. He had TIBCO build an app for the team. It includes a tab for Royal Circle, a social media network specifically for Sacramento fans. Interacting with the team digitally earns points that can be redeemed for tickets and Kings’ merch. Ranadive believes this “loyalty science” puts the Kings above others who have tried to use social media to engage fans.

“We are the only people to have actually created the science of understanding what it takes to provide the right psychological experience,” he says. “We know the action to take to convert sentiment into intention and then intention into action. That’s key to turning customers into fans.”

While the Kings draw noisy - although not always large - crowds to the Big Sleep, Ranadivé now hopes they make a much larger din down the data pipes.

For the Sacramento team, the future could be nothing but Net.

Cover photo is from CLopez63 via Wikimedia


— By on December 27, 2013, 6:05 AM PST

Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure