The Golden State Warriors rank as the third most valuable team in basketball, with Forbes’ latest valuation standing at $3.5bn. As they take aim at their fourth NBA title in five years, they’ve leveraged their historic success on the court into lucrative partnership opportunities elsewhere. Their upcoming move to downtown San Francisco and the Chase Center is reportedly poised to bring in more than $2bn in new revenue, making the unprecedented luxury tax bills that they would face in keeping this team together entirely affordable.
But these partnerships aren’t just about generating the income they need to keep the team together, and more. As the Bay Area’s team, they’re leveraging their place in Silicon Valley to ensure they stay at the cutting edge of technological innovation. Prior to joining Facebook as their Sports Partnerships Lead for Teams and Athletes nearly four years ago, Kevin Cote worked in digital marketing at the Warriors for over a decade. He’s seen it from both sides, describing the Warriors place in Silicon Valley as their “competitive advantage.” While he was at the Warriors they made a conscious effort to maximize the benefits of their proximity to the tech world, with Cote outlining the Warriors pitch as “we’re not Hollywood, we’re not the lights of New York, but we’re Silicon Valley.”
So how do they approach leveraging this competitive advantage? Kirk Lacob, the Warriors Assistant General Manager, reaches to the classic Douglas Adams novel, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, to explain. “They built the computer to tell them the answer to life, the universe, and everything. And that computer told them the answer but then told them you have to build a better computer to essentially ask the right question. So we’re always thinking like that – what is the right question to be asking?”
How to better utilize data?
One such question that is at the forefront of the Warriors’ collective minds is something that will be familiar to many businesses the world over – how to best use your data? For Lacob, who leads the charge for the Warriors on data analytics, that question of “practical application” remains the most critical issue, emphasizing “it really doesn’t matter how good your data is or how well you’ve done your analysis, but if you can’t get it to the person who needs it or it’s not actionable, it’s just not that useful.”
The Warriors’ competitive advantage in Silicon Valley is helping them answer this question through a new deal with Google Cloud. As well as providing platform services in the Chase Center, the aim of the partnership is that it will help the Warriors make better use of the wealth of data that is generated nowadays in basketball, such as data on player health that can be used to prevent and manage injury.
Lacob details what that will look like. “We want more complex problems to be solved. We have a number of different data inputs that we’re receiving, a number of different places where we’re gathering data, and [different] types of data, but we really want to be able to house it in a way that is easily dispersed and easily readable.” Ultimately, as Lacob outlines, the goal is to make all that data “a little more approachable for the quote-unquote layperson in the organization to be able to use.”
Lacob explained how the deal came about “It was really a terrific, organic fit because we had already gotten into discussions with them about how we were going to revamp our serving equipment as it relates to data capture and analysis, and data housing.” By Lacob’s own admission the Warriors are playing catch-up a little here, but they’re hoping the new partnership will really push them forwards. “We had focused so much of our energy and our resources on how we were going to communicate that data but we hadn’t really focused yet on really structuring that data to be it’s most efficient state for us to utilize… I don’t think we’ve been at the forefront on that one but we’re going to be now. By waiting and finding the perfect partner we’re really set up to have terrific infrastructure and analysis.”
How can technology enhance the customer experience?
Like any good business, the Warriors are also asking the question of how technology can provide new ways to connect with their customers. Their latest example of innovation in this space is their use of 4DReplay’s camera technology, sponsored by Zoom, one of their corporate partners.
Here’s how it works. Around the upper bowl of Oracle Arena a ring of 140 custom-configured, linked cameras capture every highlight from almost every angle. The input is fed into the control room up in the heights of their arena where a team of two operators and a producer create 270-degree rotating highlight plays. The clips can be turned around in 8-10 seconds, for all-around replays of the games biggest plays broadcast on Oracle’s scoreboard. The highlights are also used for the “Zoom play of the game” shared on social media.
— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) May 1, 2019
The Warriors had originally seen the cameras in action at a San Francisco Giants game. After a successful pilot last season, including in the NBA Finals, it’s been fully implemented this year. Janine Pelosi, Zoom’s Chief Marketing Officer, explained how their involvement came about. “Especially here in the Bay Area we try and not take a cookie-cutter approach to anything that we do. The Warriors have such a fun group to partner with that we’re able to align our teams and come together. They bring us wacky ideas, we bring them wacky ideas and then they end up with something really special. But at the end of the day it has to bring in the product in an authentic way and I think that’s what we were able to bring to life.”
The Chase Center will offer a whole range of new opportunities to innovate even more. One potential option is to offer the 4DReplay camera output to broadcasters, making the traditional telestrator look positively prehistoric. Beyond that, there’s talk of an app that would allow fans to view clips from any angle they want to. It’s a product that fits with an increasing demand for more personalized viewing experiences and new camera angles, which the NBA is experimenting with at a league level. But again, thanks to their presence in Silicon Valley and their penchant for innovative ideas, the Warriors are right at the forefront of this new technology.
What does the future hold?
As befitting a team based in Silicon Valley, the question of what the future holds is occupying plenty of time and energy. Lacob is also responsible for leading the Warriors work on e-sports, one of the newest frontiers in the sports and entertainment world. He describes this side of the business as both “serving as sort of a petri dish for us” and a “legitimate arm to our business.”
Just as the Warriors are winning on the basketball court, so too are they enjoying success in the gaming world. A couple of weeks ago Warriors Gaming Squad (WGS), their NBA 2K League affiliate team of the Golden State Warriors, defeated 76ers Gaming Club 58-39 to win the NBA 2K League’s THE TURN Tournament. Earlier in the year they became the first team to draft a female player, Chiquita “Chiquitae126” Evans, into the NBA 2K League.
Lacob strikes an excited tone about the potential opportunities on the business side. “I think that e-sports can be absolutely humongous…Sports already is a cross-cultural tool, a social connector. When something like e-sports, where it’s built into the digital age and it’s the age of connectivity, there’s the opportunity to really bridge those physical barriers in a way we’ve never been able to before.”
The biggest opportunity Lacob highlights is in being involved in something from the ground up. “I think what’s also very exciting about this whole industry is that it is so nascent and in a way it is so new that there are changes we can make at a foundational, fundamental level to the way the sport works. So we’re excited about the ability to build something from scratch that doesn’t come with all the baggage of human history.”
What insight can innovation generate for the wider business?
With something so new, there are plenty of lessons that can be applied across the wider business. In particular, Lacob highlights how they’re hoping that getting in early on e-sports will give the Warriors a headstart in learning how to engage the next generation of customers. “I think we’re learning a lot about new demographics. Everybody in the world is having the same issue in reaching and engaging with this new generation of… people who want to be able to see anything and everything personalized on mobile, and often for free, and use adblockers and things like that. I think one of the exciting things about e-sports is born in a digital age so those problems are inherently built in, or they’re never even born.”
The Warriors’ eyes are on a larger prize than just basketball. With the Chase Center opening, they’re thinking big about the possibilities of an expanded sports and entertainment business, potentially branching out into becoming not just a content company, but their own platform too. E-sports is also helping them think through some of the possibilities, as Lacob explains “e-sports at a very simple level is content, but it is a new form of content. As a platform we’re gaining fans, we’re gaining users, we’re finding new ways to engage with them but I think that this is going to challenge the status quo.”
For some of those new users, e-sports will be their first contact with basketball. Indeed Ted Leonsis, owner of the Washington Wizards and chairman of the NBA’s media committee envisages it as one of the big potential growth areas in introducing a new generation of fans around the globe to the traditional sport. Lacob highlights how the NBA 2K league is “a great beta test to try to understand where some of those overlaps can occur and how we can inform some decisions made in traditional sports on e-sports, but frankly how e-sports can inform some of the things we can change in traditional sports as well.”
A meeting of minds
Ultimately that inquisitive mindset is at the heart of building successful partnerships and innovating with new products, technology, and markets. Lacob’s description of the Warriors approach as “we learn quickly, we fail quickly, we respond quickly and hopefully we succeed in the end” is classic Silicon Valley. It’s not hard to see how these two neighbors have come together so successfully.
As the Warriors move to a state-of-the-art building in the Chase Center they’ll be plenty of new opportunities for new deals to bolster the bottom line. But if the Warriors continue to be successful in finding the right questions, then those partnerships will also catapult them into the future.