The Sacramento Kings lead the NBA in game-day marketing. They were the first team to have a direct integration with Uber. The Uber interface changes when there's a game, and one of the options is "Kings Game" and includes the Kings logo. When the partnership launched, all season ticket holders received Uber credits. The Kings RV is one of the special cars that pick up Kings fans, sometimes along with a former player or an executive involved with the Kings. The goal of the organization is to always try to create a great atmosphere across the city on game days.
I talked with Benjamin Gumpert, the CMO of the Sacramento Kings, about his approach to sports marketing.
How did you get into sports marketing?
When I was 7 years old, I couldn't dream of anything but playing sports. I had learned math by going through statistics in the newspaper each morning. I grew up in Sacramento, and vividly remember the team coming to town and going to some of the first games with my father. I was instantly hooked.
I worked at Bain early in my career, and went to business school at Stanford, where I became laser-focused on finding a role in sports. I was fortunate enough to land an internship with the San Francisco Giants, and they were very innovative, already thinking about dynamic ticket pricing back in 2006, before many other teams were thinking about it that way. My background in consulting had me thinking about data first, and I transitioned that same philosophy over into sports. I was lucky enough to get an interview with the NBA in 2008, and moved to New York City for a role in the NBA's team marketing and business operations group. My focus was working with all NBA teams on their business challenges and opportunities, akin to an internal consulting group. I spent five years at the NBA and learned from some of the best in the business.
My time at the NBA happened to coincide with one of the most pivotal eras for my hometown team in Sacramento, with a heroic fan and regional movement to keep the team. As new ownership came in, I knew that I wanted to be a part of it.
What areas of improvement did you immediately work on when you became the CMO?
I'm a huge believer in data-driven decision making. There is a wealth of data that's only increasing because of the use of mobile phones. Through mobile, ticketing has become more digitized. Social media and other digital interactions have exponential growth potential. It's all data that indicates what a fan wants and likes.
Personalization is an absolute need here at the Kings and across the NBA, and moving into the new arena here in Sacramento will only allow us to do more. We're building the arena with digital interaction with fans in mind, to create a better fan environment. There will be more connectivity in building that enables those interactive elements.
How do you do digital engagement with fans in the stadium?
We're working with Comcast on bandwidth that is up to 17,000 times faster than the typical home internet connection and far greater than what any other NBA arena has had. Without the right connectivity, it's hard to drive digital interaction at the increased pace the fans are desiring. People want to talk about their experiences. Millennials want to be more experimental, and they share with pictures and videos in the moment using Instagram, Snapchat, and other social networks. So first, you need to build the right backbone that enables everything else.
One thing we did this year that we'll continue to do is VR. We even use it on the sales side to showcase the experience with potential season ticket holders and sponsors. So, we're essentially able to give a courtside seat to anyone in the world. On opening night, we broadcasted a live game on VR to India as well as a local hospital, so kids who couldn't come to the game could still have a courtside experience. Of course, you need massive connectivity to do that on a scalable basis, but it enables what fans can do with their mobile phones here and around the world.
Do you have any tips for marketers?
The rapid change and evolution on the basis of technology still amazes me. Things just happen faster and faster. That makes the world flatter, and industries blend together. Where I think that's an awesome opportunity for any marketing team is that the barriers aren't nearly what they used to be. Great ideas win. Great data helps form those great ideas. And being great at one thing and informing that through data is the way to go.
In addition to having platforms that you've never had before, you need to have platforms that work together. There are still so many problems we need to solve in sports and in sports marketing--driving to the games, the food experience, and things like that. And if you can solve one piece, there's a way to have that plugged into everything else. Here's one example--we're working with a company on experience upgrades for fans. Let's say you bought $20 tickets and are seated in the upper bowl. You're in the arena, go in the Kings app, and upgrade your seat to anywhere else that is still open. Not only that, you can also purchase the chance to take a postgame free throw on the court. Maybe you get a spot in the postgame press conference. It's about creating connected experiences, and it's all done in a seamless flow for fans.
Benjamin Gumpert is the CMO of the Sacramento Kings. He leads their marketing initiatives across pricing strategy, procurement, consumer segmentation, competitive analysis, and more.