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Volume 21 No. 1


The Sacramento Kings continue down the road of innovation.

The team that has brought Google Glass technology and the use of drones to home games this season will now use the latest gaming device to help sell their planned new arena.

“Instead of an old-school PowerPoint document, you create an immersive experience,” says Sacramento President Chris Granger, wearing the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset.
The Kings this summer plan to introduce a developmental virtual reality headset called the Oculus Rift to serve as a portable arena sales center for potential season-ticket, premium-seat and corporate sponsorship customers. The technology delivers a customized 3-D virtual sales experience through a headset, allowing viewers to see a high-resolution, animated view of the team’s planned arena along with views of sponsorship inventory, suites, club seats, hospitality spaces and seats.

The headset is made by Irvine, Ca.-based Oculus VR and is marketed mainly toward the video gaming industry. Company officials declined to comment on the team’s use of the product. But Kings executives see crossover to the sports facility industry.

“It is brand new, and we can take it on the road and to someone’s office and bring the new arena to our fans,” said Kings President Chris Granger. “Instead of an old-school PowerPoint document, you create an immersive experience. It also allows partners to weigh in to create something with a great sense of understanding.”

Granger would not disclose the cost of the new technology, the bulk of which lies in creating the 3-D content. The team will have multiple sets of the device, which, according to the Oculus website, will be available this year. The Kings discovered the technology at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January and expect to begin using it in June.

The application is another example of the technology-based approach in running the franchise under new Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé, who since taking over the team last year has used Google Glass technology during a game in January and incorporated camera-mounted drones at a game in February.

Total length of the arena animation when viewed in full is about 16 minutes. The technology and sales effort ties to the team’s plans to open a $448 million downtown arena for the 2016-17 season. Last week, the Kings’ arena effort was bolstered by a court ruling that prevented a vote on the arena funding.

“We are in the process of creating animation for everything from what a suite looks like to what it feels like to be walking down the arena concourse.” Granger said

The Kings plans to use the Oculus Rift particularly for sponsorship sales. “You will be able to see the signage in the arena and around the building,” said Jeff David, senior vice president of sales and marketing for the team. “You can also pre-program what inventory looks like.”

Kings executives said the portability of the headsets was a key factor in using the new technology and tout the ability to bring the arena experience on the road to clients instead of having a traditional preview center where sales prospects have to make appointments.

“Imagine going to Silicon Valley and pitching a sponsorship rather than a showing slides,” David said.

In addition to the virtual demo, the team is also planning to open a massive, 8,300-square-foot preview sales facility at the site of the planned arena this summer, at a cost of more than $2 million. At that size, the sales center will be larger than the 7,800-square-foot preview center opened recently by the Minnesota Vikings, and it’s more than twice the size of the 49ers’ 3,500-square-foot marketing center for Levi’s Stadium.

“We think about this as having two sales centers,” Granger said. “We will have a physical sales center with the exact duplications of suites, club seats, and hospitality spaces. Then we will have a virtual sales center powered by the Oculus Rift technology to take on the road. It is a 21st century approach.”

The Minnesota Timberwolves find themselves in a unique situation this week: The team will roll out a marketing campaign for a game they never had on their original regular-season home schedule.

The game at hand is April 8, against San Antonio. It was originally scheduled for Dec. 3 but was to have been played in Mexico City (though still slated as a Wolves home game).

The game, originally scheduled for Mexico City in December, got an ad campaign of its own.
Smoke from a generator fire at Mexico City Arena forced the league to cancel the game, rescheduling it for Target Center next month. That gave the Wolves an unexpected regular-season game to sell, but it also presented some marketing challenges. With no pre-sell, the Wolves couldn’t package the game into any mini-plans or other previous promotions already in place for the season, so the team now is rolling out a campaign to drum up fan interest in a single-game, late-season contest.

“I’ve been trying to find an analogy but haven’t been able to find one,” said Ted Johnson, chief marketing officer for the Wolves. “It’s unusual to have a new game added to the schedule. It’s kind of like having a rain delay in baseball, but those tickets already have been sold.”

The planned TV, radio and print campaign launching this week pokes fun at the rescheduling. The TV spot recalls the canceled Mexico City game and asks fans to come out and watch the Wolves “smoke” the Spurs in Minneapolis. The team’s radio spot promises a much more personal — and colder game — at the Target Center.

The campaign was created by Minneapolis-based Hunt Adkins, the team’s agency of record.

“Our challenge is that we haven’t pre-sold the game,” Johnson said. “We have to sell the entire arena. The campaign is a little tongue-in-cheek, and we wanted to have a little fun. We can’t hide what happened and we need to bring people back to why the game exists. It is imperative that the creative stands out.”

The Wolves use dynamic pricing in their ticket sales and are pricing the game as a traditional mid-tier game despite the appearance of the high-profile Spurs.

Johnson said he expects the campaign ultimately will help the makeup game’s gate reach the team’s average home attendance of about 15,000 fans per game. Fox Sports North will broadcast the game. Team officials declined to discuss any financial arrangements made between the league and the team over the original game or its rescheduled date.