NBA’s Hawks Court ‘Tech Savvy’ Fans With Rewards Program

Atlanta Hawks owner Bruce Levenson wants fans to picture this: Less than a second left in the game and Kyle Korver is at the foul line, trailing by one. Time out.

At that moment fans, whether inside Philips Arena or watching at home, will receive a text message from the National Basketball Association team. Along with Korver’s free-throw statistics will come a question: Will he miss both, make one or make both? Fans inside the arena who answer correctly will get, say, 1,000 points in a yet-to-be-created rewards program. Fans at home will get points, too, fewer than those at the game.

Levenson and Steve Koonin, a former Turner Broadcasting executive who this week was named the team’s chief executive officer, are counting on mobile technology to bolster not only the in-arena experience but the fan base of a playoff team whose 14,340 average home attendance is the third-worst in the league this season.

“The NBA has a real affinity for younger people who are much more tech savvy,” said Koonin, who also received an ownership stake in the Hawks when he joined the franchise three days ago.

The first order of business, Levenson said in a telephone interview with Koonin, a former marketing executive at Coca-Cola Co., is to create “the next great app” aimed at attracting new customers. Levenson said he’s working on the mobile application with a technology partner that he wouldn’t name. While it’s still in development, the team is looking for unique ways to make it a first-of-its-kind app, spokesman Garin Narain said.

Investing in a team app is “challenging,” said Brian Razzaque, CEO of Baltimore-based social marketing platform SocialToaster, whose clients include the NBA’s Detroit Pistons.

“Most of the teams don’t have significant budgets,” he said. “App development can be a significant expense.”

The Hawks, at 37-44, will finish eighth in the Eastern Conference and face the top-seeded Indiana Pacers in the opening round of the playoffs.

Connecting Seats

The Hawks invested “a bunch of money” to make sure every one of the arena’s 18,118 seats is connected, Levenson said, declining to be specific. “You can’t force people to put the phone down,” he said.

The app will be free, Levenson said, adding that it might be sponsored by one of the team’s sponsors, such as Atlanta-based Coca-Cola. “There are so many ways to monetize it,” he said.

Levenson said he’s talked with officials at the league office about tailoring the app for use with all 30 clubs.

“This is basketball,” Levenson said. “This is fun.”

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