During our #SportsDataSV 2014 special event, #theCUBE welcomed Dave Kaval, president of the San Jose Earthquakes soccer team. Sitting down with hosts John Furrier and Jeff Kelly, Kaval demonstrates a forward-thinking understanding of both technology and the role it plays in the fan experience during a sporting event.
The first thing Kaval discusses is the $100 million stadium that is coming to life smack dab in the middle of Silicon Valley. Kaval exposes that San Jose’s Major League Soccer team the Earthquakes understands that young fans demand a high technology experience. The stadium will be completed in November of this year, scheduled to open next March in time for the start of the season. The stadium holds 18,000 seats, 20 suites, 1,000 club level seats, and the coolest part — an all-standing supporter section in one of the end zones. (Yes, the area behind a soccer goal is called an end zone, too.) The Earthquakes’ stadium will also feature a roof, and according to Kaval, the stadium has a great European design that will give you the feeling you’re overseas watching football.
What to expect with the new, high-tech fan experience
The innovation strategy for the San Jose Earthquakes is pretty cut-and-dry: Focus on the fan experience. The ‘Quakes aren’t adopting technology just for kicks, there’s a much deeper reasoning behind it.
“We’re not into technology just for technology sake,” says Kaval. “I don’t… have the fastest router switch, I don’t even care about that. What I care about is creating technology to enable great fan experiences. Whether its someone posting a Vine video, or someone actually getting a picture they post on Facebook, whatever it is I want to have the technology infrastructure to support that and create a seamless experience.”
From social media to commerce, the innovation plans at the new ‘Quakes stadium is tailored towards being a top-notch fan experience. Kaval says they will offer mobile tickets, so that as you’re walking into the stadium all you need is your actual phone. The ‘Quakes have many layers of technology-related fan experience add-ons, too. One standout example is being about to track the heart rate of players on the pitch (soccer talk for field), or even following along with the biometric data of every player in the game.
“That’s one of the big things with soccer and our league,” says Kaval, “we’re kind of an upstart league, and so we have to try new things to try and challenge the MLB or NFL.”
Speaking of trying new things, the San Jose Earthquakes were an alpha partner with Google for Google Glass. Kaval explains that this year at the 2014 MLS Draft, he wore Google Glass so that fans could get the experience of what it was like to be at the draft, behind the scenes.
Philosophy of technology + sports
“I see [ technology] as an enabler, I see it as something that creates a better fan experience,” Kaval (@QuakesPrez) explains. “A third of our fans are millennials, they’re folks that are only really connected with mobile on their cell phones. And so you need to make sure that you’re creating an environment where they can do a tweet and they can interact and actually have contests and have an experience that is different at our venue, or they’ll turn off and they won’t be interested.”
The Earthquakes partnered with Ruckus Wireless to power networking in the new stadium, which Kaval dubs the ‘Tesla-level’ WiFi system. How many times have you been at a sporting event, or an entertainment event of any kind, and couldn’t get reception? Couldn’t call out, send a text message, tweet, Facebook, check-in… Kaval and the Earthquakes wanted to be darn sure they built the infrastructure required for their fan experience goals.
Data is very important to soccer too, which might sound odd. After all, soccer is the most continuous flow sport there is, heck the clock doesn’t even stop. So doesn’t that mean there is less actionable data to garner insights from? Wrong, says Kaval. What it does require though, is Kaval and his team to be very savvy and innovative to create events that can be monitored that can be deterministic variables, so that when they’re running analysis regressions they’re able to find algorithms that predicts accurate variables.
There is still some subjectiveness to MLS data analysis. Bias has to be injected into the data, because without interpretation it’s worthless. What exactly makes a “key pass” during a match? What set pieces are most effective during a match, and where on the field?
“We actually do forecasting for the upcoming opponent, and I don’t know of a lot of other teams that do that,” says Kaval.
Bitcoin + other cutting edge tech
Come May, the San Jose Earthquakes will be one of the first professional sports teams in the world to accept Bitcoin, starting with merchandise purchases. Kaval says that they hope to begin accepting at their concession stands, too. Appealing to the tech savvy, the ‘Quakes are going for a commerce experience that is seamless, allowing your phone to serve up everything from tickets to treasures to treats.
So what is the vertical media strategy? How does Kaval plan to get more butts in the seats?
Kaval believes that if the Earthquakes can give fans a reason to be more connected and passionate, the fan base will build incrementally. But this fan experience is not only tailored to the techies. Kaval has in place a plan to connect fans to the ‘Quakes brand even outside of early adopters and techies. The Earthquakes try to market one-on-one, appealing to individual fans.
Kaval shares details on how the Earthquakes hopes to personalize the fan experience, speaking on the team’s software that linguistically looks at the language fans use online and analyzes it to make personality profiles. They use the same concept when scouting players, too. This goes beyond just a social graph, this is an interest graph.
The ‘Quakes aim to build a lifestyle experience around its brand. According to Kaval, his organization sources youth data through partnerships with the AYSO and CYSA among other major youth soccer programs, even doing some co-marketing with these groups. Connecting at the youth level is a big step in the right direction, says Kaval.