Portland Trail Blazers Blaze a Digital Trail

It’s no secret that professional sports teams live and die by fan interest. Boosting engagement—and interaction—is at the center of scoring a win on and off the court. Yet in the digital age, building out successful apps, tools and features isn’t a slam dunk. “Today, fans are on mobile devices at games and at home. It’s important to deliver a rich experience that goes beyond scores, stats and news,” said Dewayne Henkins, senior vice president of brand strategy and digital for the Portland Trail Blazers and the Rose Quarter.

To be sure, the Trail Blazers are taking digital interactions to a higher level. The National Basketball Association (NBA) team has introduced a number of advanced and first-of-a-kind features through its official mobile app, which is now about three years old. It has partnered with a number of digital companies—and tapped tools and technologies such as beacons and integrated e-commerce—to help fans connect to food, parking, tickets, digital content and more.

“About 70 percent of our fan traffic now arrives through the mobile platform,” Henkins said. As a result, “many of our initiatives are aimed at driving traffic and offering enhanced features through the app.”

For example, in April the Blazers introduced a “FanScan” feature that lets fans use their mobile device to scan a hidden bar code on enhanced print media and merchandise at the arena—such as team posters or calendars—and then view related content. In addition, when an imperceptible audio tone is transmitted through the arena’s sound system, the smartphone microphone picks it up—similar to the way music app Shazam works—and fans then view videos, enhanced bios, real-time game schedule information and behind-the-scenes photos. The Trail Blazers are the first NBA squad to use this technology, which was developed by Digimarc as part of its Discover platform.

But the app also drives fan loyalty and revenues. The team, working with Ticketmaster, was the first NBA franchise to include season-ticket renewal inside a native app. Last year, about 6 percent of these fans used the feature, noted Vincent Ircandia, senior vice president of business operations. The mobile app also allows fans to purchase parking for games and pay for items at concession stands, about 800 courtside seat holders can order food and beverages through their phone and have the items delivered directly to their seats, and the app allows ticket holders, including students, to upgrade seats—often at a discounted price—on game day.

In January, the team also began using Footmarks beacons to strategically message fans and send promotions when they are near a concession stand.

“There are a ton of different uses within the arena,” Henkins said. However, “we want to make sure the content and experience is extremely relevant.”

The data captured from the beacons is also being used to create a 360-degree customer view, which leads to a more customized experience, Ircandia said.

“We want fans, based on their actions and behaviors, to define and dictate their experience.” Already, this has helped the franchise push open rates for e-mails to above 45 percent, up from about 30 percent only a few years ago.

“About 70 percent of our traffic is mobile, which is the highest in the league. We are designing for the small screen and an enhanced experience…the goal is to create a fantastic digital experience for our fans,” Henkins said.


Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard writes about business, technology and other topics. His book, The Internet of Things (MIT Press) was released in the spring of 2015.

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