Robot Security, Drone Parking Coming to Kings' Arena -- Someday

  • Faster Wi-Fi and more Instagram posts are just the beginning
  • Ranadive, Comcast promise "first arena of the 21st century"

Sacramento Kings fans will experience the latest in the stadium-technology arms race when their new arena opens next season: Even in a capacity crowd of 17,500, everyone will still be able to make 13 Instagram posts per second.

The team signed a multiyear agreement with Comcast Corp. to provide the Internet infrastructure for the new $507 million Golden 1 Center, which was integral to keeping the Kings from moving to Seattle in 2013. Comcast, which is the Kings’ local TV partner, also provides the infrastructure for Levi’s Stadium, home of the San Francisco 49ers and host of the upcoming Super Bowl.

“It’s the first arena of the 21st century,” said Kings owner Vivek Ranadive, founder of Tibco Software Inc. “We’re creating a social network for the fans to have the ultimate experience in an Instagram generation.”

This kind of technology is the latest way teams are making the case to fans that a live event is worth the ever-rising price of admission. Attendance for basketball is still strong across the NBA, even for the struggling Kings, but teams are worried fans will increasingly choose to watch from home, with their smartphones and laptops open.

North American sports teams and leagues make the biggest proportion of their money from ticket sales. Media rights are a close second and quickly closing the gap -- they are projected to surpass ticket revenue by 2018, according to a study by PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

“People have an insatiable appetite for data and bandwidth and selfies and stats and virtual reality,” Ranadive said, adding that his goal was to “future-proof” the stadium’s technology. 

What might that future include? The owner said he is also experimenting with robots to help with with arena security, armrests that charge your mobile phone, drone-aided parking, and virtual-reality glasses that offer fans a view from the coach’s perspective or the hoop itself.

For starters, though, the new free, high-speed Wi-Fi will be 17,000 times faster than the average home Internet connection. Ranadive said he hopes that will prompt more people to use the team’s mobile app, which can send fans to the shortest bathroom or concession line. About 25 percent of customers use the free Wi-Fi in place at Sleep Train Arena, the Kings’ current home, during games, the team said.

The NBA is popular on social media. It has 27.7 million Facebook fans, more than double the NFL and four times Major League Baseball. Earlier this week, the NBA became the first organization to surpass 1 billion loops on Vine, which shows video clips.

At its best, Ranadive said, the technology in the arena should be able to predict what fans want and when they want it, even before they pull out their mobile phone to buy a hot dog and a foam finger. “It can be ticket-less, paperless and, if you opt in, even phone-less,” Ranadive said. "The arena should check into you.”

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