Kings turn to startups Built.io, Cartogram for Golden 1 Center app development

Screenshots from new Sacramento Kings/Golden 1 Center app. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Screenshots from new Sacramento Kings/Golden 1 Center app. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

For an arena that seeks to redefine the fan experience at a large public venue, it’s somehow fitting that the Sacramento Kings have turned to startups for two of the core parts of the new stadium app for their new home, Golden 1 Center.

With a main app platform developed by stadium-newcomer Built.io and mapping features provided by Seattle-based startup Cartogram, the Kings have produced a stadium app they hope will help give fans a better game-day experience, by reducing “pain points” in areas like transit, parking and ticketing, while also providing features like concession-ordering and delivery via the app. There are also plans for a wide range of content including replays and stats, and the ability to purchase seat upgrades. Though the new Golden 1 Center is already open, the stadium-app features will likely not be fully tested until the Kings’ first regular-season opener, scheduled for Oct. 27 against the San Antonio Spurs.

And while the app is a centerpiece of the Kings’ very public campaign to tout Golden 1 Center as one of the most technologically advanced stadiums every built, to even begin to reach that title the Kings must first conquer the biggest hurdle most stadium apps have, that being just getting fans to download and use the app in the first place. Ryan Montoya, chief technical officer for the Kings, thinks the app’s focus on services will help drive adoption, especially for a brand-new place where all fans will need help finding there way there, and around once inside.

Flexibility to add more services quickly

“We wanted to build features [in the app] that were actually useful to fans,” said Montoya in a phone interview. “We wanted to push the boundaries, to remove friction and help the arena become more intuitive.”

Directions and parking / transit options

Directions and parking / transit options

Though most of the leading team- and stadium-app platforms, such as those from YinzCam or VenueNext, provide the ability to integrate third-party features, the Kings said they were seeking a more agile app platform, one that Montoya said “would provide us flexibility in real time.” For that core, the Kings turned to a company called Built.io, a San Francisco firm with experience in “assisting large organizations with digital transformations,” but no public claims to team- or venue-app developments.

Neha Sampat, co-founder and CEO of Built.io, said that since its founding in 2007, her company has a lot of experience in helping enterprise company move to cloud-based operations, moves that include support for content management and mobile-device usage.

“What the Kings are trying to do is a large-scale enterprise use case,” said Sampat in a phone interview. “There are a lot of big-data analytics and so much personalization that is dependent on data.”

Sampat said Built.io’s model of a “back end as a service” and its ability to quickly connect other programs’ APIs make it a perfect partner for the Kings, who want to expose multiple services and features through the combined Golden 1 Center/Kings app.

“When Vivek [Ranadive, Kings owner] said 2 years ago the ‘arena will check into you,’ we got excited because that was our vision,” Sampat said. Sampat compared the Kings’ ideas to services Built.io has helped deliver at other large public spaces, like connected cities and convention centers.

Ticketmaster integration

Ticketmaster integration

“The use cases are similar,” Sampat said. “If you’re at a conference, something can happen [to the event app] due to your location.”

Using the Built.io backend, the Kings have been able to add several well-known existing services to the new app, including Appetize for food ordering, and Parking Panda for parking services. There is also integration with Ticketmaster and some new “smart kiosks” from Skidata which Montoya said should be able to allow for up to 1,000 fans per hour to get into the arena, as opposed to limits of around 300 fans per hour via manual ticket-scanning techniques.

The important thing, Montoya said, is to have a backend system that allows for continuous additions to the application, a so-called “bus” theory “to allow us to integrate services seamlessly.”

Maps the way people want them

While the app certainly is pushing the envelope when it comes to functionality, perhaps the most important part of it at the start will be its wayfinding capabilities. With its intimate downtown setting — one placed right in the city center, and not surrounded by parking lots — Golden 1 Center will likely present a challenge for fans in just trying to get to and get inside the venue. Add into that the challenge for any fan simply to find their way around a brand-new facility, and you have an increased need for directions and assistance.

To help fans find their way, the Kings have built features into the app that include map-directed wayfinding to transit and to parking lots, and then into the building and to their seats. To power the wayfinding, the Kings selected Cartogram, a Seattle-based startup that uses Google Maps as its base to power maps that allow for directed searches both inside and outside buildings.

Indoor seating map

Indoor seating map

In a recent phone interview, Cartogram CEO Will Clausen said the Kings had been looking for a mapping solution that could integrate both exterior and interior views, mainly due to the aforementioned challenges of getting directions to a new stadium located in a downtown core. Having a Cartogram employee who worked previously with a Kings employee helped get Cartogram in the door, Clausen said, and now its system drives not only the wayfinding features in the app but other amenities like the ability to see how long lines are at concession stands or bathrooms.

Working closely both with Built.io as well as with the Kings’ wireless networking team, Clausen said the Cartogram software uses information both from Bluetooth beacons as well as from Wi-Fi access points to determine line lengths and wait times. While Bluetooth is great for providing granular location information for a single device, Clausen noted that while not all devices may have the app downloaded, almost all devices in a venue have Wi-Fi active, allowing the Kings’ system to detect density in local areas based on the number of devices its Wi-Fi network can see.

And while other stadium systems like the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium app have wayfinding features with live interactive maps, those maps are different than Google Maps, an app Clausen said most people know and like. Using Google Maps as its base, Clausen said, “gives end users the experience they’re used to.”

In the end, such familiarity may help the Kings’ Golden 1 Center app become more widely used than other stadium apps, which regularly trail social-media apps and email apps for most-used apps in any stadium game-day use measurements. And while relying on startups may be the team-app version of an NBA team relying on rookie players, the Kings’ Montoya is confident the new app will help the Kings deliver on their vision of an advanced fan experience.

“I think we’ve seen a transformation of what a [stadium] app is supposed to be,” Montoya said. “It’s a real evolution.”

The all-important cowbell sound feature for the app.

The all-important cowbell sound feature for the app.

For concerts -- who needs a lighter when the app can provide?

For concerts — who needs a lighter when the app can provide?

KC’s Sporting Innovations sues former co-CEO, loses Pac-12 app deal

App promo at Stanford football game last fall. All photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

App promo at Stanford football game last fall. All photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

From the outside looking in, it’s a bit of strange days going on at the Kansas City-based sports technology developer Sporting Innovations, which recently filed a lawsuit against its former co-CEO for allegedly conspiring to set up a competing firm using Sporting Innovations assets and intellectual property. It was also recently learned that Sporting Innovations’ project to help the Pac-12 develop a game-day app for sports teams is no longer active, after a year-long test with the Stanford University football team that didn’t produce any visible or public results.

Since Sporting Innovations isn’t offering any insight — a company contact replied “no comment” to an email asking for more information on both subjects — we can only guess as to what the business mood is at the company right now. But if you read the detailed report on the lawsuit by Kansas City Star reporter Kasia Kovacs it seems like Sporting Innovations has been plagued by some serious internal strife over the past year.

According to the lawsuit, Sporting Innovations alleges that former co-CEO Asim Pasha and his son Zain (also a Sporting Innovations employee) “began secretly plotting the formation of a competing company” sometime around September of 2014. From the introduction of the lawsuit, more details about the alleged conspiracy, which also allegedly involved a company named Vernalis, which was a contractor to Sporting Innovations:

To do so, they exploited SI’s resources, confidential information and trade secrets, business opportunities, and relationships with commercial partners, including Vernalis Group, Inc. (“Vernalis”), and Nader “Nate” Hanafy (“Hanafy”), Managing Director at Vernalis. Asim and Zain also misused SI’s corporate credit card to incur tens of thousands of dollars in personal expenses. Asim and Zain have refused to provide documentation and receipts related to their improper and extravagant spending.

The lawsuit, which seeks $75,000 in damages and the return of Sporting Innovations assets — including laptops for both Asim Pasha and Zain Pasha, which the company contends were not returned — was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri on June 17, a day after the company fired Asim Pasha. According to the copy of the lawsuit, Sporting Innovations is seeking a jury trial.

Pac-12 app trial is over, no role for Sporting Innovations going forward

Stanford app splash screen showing Uphoria branding

Stanford app splash screen showing Uphoria branding

Last fall, Sporting Innovations seemed to get a boost for its sports-app technology when the Pac-12 and Stanford chose Sporting Innovations’ FAN360 software as the base for a game-day stadium app that was tested in various forms of completion at Stanford home football games. Asim Pasha, then still co-CEO, was quoted in the press release announcing the deal. Sporting Innovations highlighted the deal in interviews last fall, and Sporting Innovations execs were part of a sports innovation conference at Levi’s Stadium that was hosted in part by the Pac-12.

But that deal is now dead after one season, with a Pac-12 representative confirming that the conference is no longer working with Sporting Innovations following last year’s pilot program. At its recent meetings, the conference decided to create its own multimedia rights sales arm, which will lead fan engagement technology projects going forward, though no details of such projects have yet been revealed. However, the GoStanford app, which has a splash screen saying it is powered by Sporting Innovations’ Uphoria platform, is still active, with news updates as recent as last month.

On the Sporting Innovations website, the company has claimed app deals for its technology with several other schools and teams, including Oklahoma State University and the Tampa Bay Lightning of the NHL, among others.

Twitter, Live Nation and Aruba are investors in $9 million Series A round for Levi’s Stadium app developer VenueNext

Screen shot from VenueNext's Levi's Stadium app

Screen shot from VenueNext’s Levi’s Stadium app

Almost as interesting as today’s news of a $9 million Series A venture round for Levi’s Stadium app developer VenueNext is the list of participants in this round of funding, which includes Twitter Ventures, Live Nation Entertainment and Aruba Networks, among others.

While there’s also an interesting story to be mined about lead investor Causeway Media Partners, whose managing partner Mark Wan is one of the San Francisco 49ers’ “one percent” minority owners, the other listed investors offer an interesting take on VenueNext’s potential future beyond its current single client, Levi’s Stadium.

In a press release announcing the funding, VenueNext CEO John Paul said the funds would be used mainly to expand the VenueNext team to support deployments of venue apps for 30 different new clients before the end of the calendar year. Though VenueNext has yet to name a client other than Levi’s Stadium, its upcoming list is expected to include not just sports stadiums but entertainment venues as well, a facet which partially explains the potential investment interest for Live Nation.

Aruba Networks, now owned by HP, is the gear used in the Wi-Fi and beacon networks at Levi’s, which are integrated tightly with the app, so perhaps the Aruba investment is a small way to gain influence at venues still considering Wi-Fi infrastructure purchases. And while we caution that all this is guesswork at this point, Twitter Ventures’ interest in VenueNext is most likely related to the app’s ability to integrate live video, which at some point could conceivably come from the phones of Twitter users via Vine or Periscope. Like we said, interesting partners to have!

Midseason version of Levi's Stadium app, with clearer icons on main screen

Midseason version of Levi’s Stadium app, with clearer icons on main screen

Much different approach

While VenueNext is still a newcomer in the stadium-application marketplace — trailing far behind established players like YinzCam and MLBAM in numbers of deployed apps — its approach to embracing a small number of fan-focused and revenue-generating features like concessions, ticketing, replays and loyalty programs is much different than most stadium apps, which have historically tried to cram as many features in as possible. VenueNext’s top calling card right now may be the in-seat food and merchandise delivery feature it implemented at Levi’s Stadium last year, impressive mainly because of its advertised ability to reach every seat in the 68,500-seat stadium (which worked pretty well for football games but not so much when hockey crowds showed up).

But what may prove more interesting and useful to other potential clients are VenueNext’s integrated ticketing and marketing-analysis features, which not only make it easier for fans to purchase and redirect tickets, but also allows teams to build databases with rich information about fan purchasing preferences.

On both fronts, VenueNext was successful at Levi’s Stadium last season, with the app accounting for more than $800,000 in food and beverage purchases (according to VenueNext) while also registering more than 200,000 unique users, who are all now a part of the Niners’ marketing database. And while the instant replay feature didn’t get as much fan traction as was originally thought, its backbone systems were impressive in action, and were witnessed last season by a weekly parade of IT guests from interested teams.

Originally conceived and funded by Aurum Partners LLC, an investment entity controlled by the Niners’ owners, VenueNext is part of a sports/technology group of investments by Causeway (including SeatGeek), a boutique-ish firm whose partners have a long history in investment and finance, including being owners of the Boston Celtics. Wan will also join VenueNext’s board as part of the investment round, according to VenueNext.

UPDATE: Wan wrote a post on Medium about the investment.

(VenueNext image parade follows. Credit all Levi’s Stadium photos and app screenshots: Paul Kapustka, MSR. Credit John Paul photo: VenueNext. Enjoy!)

First replay tablet app, which adds info about the play

First replay tablet app, which adds info about the play

Second replay tablet app, which adds a thumbnail to the replay

Second replay tablet app, which adds a thumbnail to the replay

Photo of directions function in Levi's Stadium app.

Photo of directions function in Levi’s Stadium app.

Probably the first time many fans heard the term "NiNerds" (Nov. 23, 2014)

Probably the first time many fans heard the term “NiNerds” (Nov. 23, 2014)

NiNerd sporting the new neon vest.

NiNerd sporting the new neon vest.

John Paul, CEO and founder, VenueNext

John Paul, CEO and founder, VenueNext

Season opener issues: Picture of app late in the first half.

Season opener issues: Picture of app late in the first half.

YinzCam’s Super Bowl stadium app will have instant replays, Super Bowl commericals, stadium maps and more

Screen shot of Super Bowl app for this year's game.

Screen shot of Super Bowl app for this year’s game.

We’ve been waiting for official word on what the YinzCam-developed app for the Super Bowl will look like, and though there’s no press release the page where we are guessing it will eventually be available is offering some details, like the availability of instant replays from different camera angles, video of Super Bowl commercials, and stadium maps.

On the Seahawks.com site we found a good how-to story for fans going to the game, which included a link to this page, where we are guessing the Super Bowl stadium app will be available for download. Here is the boilerplate:

New for Super Bowl XLIX, the Super Bowl Stadium App Presented by Verizon aims to take the fan experience inside University of Phoenix Stadium to the next level. Features that will enhance Super Bowl ticketholders’ experiences include exclusive in-stadium video content such as Super Bowl commercials and replays from four different camera angles, stadium seating and concession maps, once-in-a-lifetime gameday opportunities visible only to fans inside the stadium and the option to receive up-to-the-minute gameday notifications. Available on iOS, Android and Windows. Goes Live 23rd January 2015

(Looks like the app is already available in the App Store and in Google Play, but nothing is live; we downloaded the app and the only three buttons available, for highlights, commercials and memories, all say they will be available on Feb. 1 at the stadium, so no idea what the “goes live” on the splash page above means yet.)

Screen Shot 2015-01-23 at 11.40.41 PMYinzCam founder and CEO Priya Narasimhan had told us earlier this year that a Super Bowl app was in the making, and apparently it will contain features found in some of the latest YinzCam app deployments, such as the Seattle Seahawks’ new stadium app, which has multiple camera angle replays. The Super Bowl app is different from the Arizona Cardinals’ regular stadium app, which was also built by YinzCam, which also features instant replays.

We were able to download the app for iPhone (it’s free) and apparently you will need to be connected to the stadium Wi-Fi (which has the clever SSID of “Stadium WiFi”) in order to view highlights and other video options.

The good thing for fans at the big game, there will be plenty of networking horsepower to keep the app running, no matter where you are. If you’re inside the stadium there is a new Wi-Fi network and a refurbished DAS deployment to keep fans connected; stay tuned next week for our big breakdown of DAS deployments and carrier plans to keep the Super Bowl crowds super-connected.