Warriors and Rakuten to improve fan experience on Viber
By Jonathan Rest in San Francisco
The Golden State Warriors, the reigning NBA basketball champions, are to team up with their jersey sponsor Rakuten, the Japanese e-commerce company, in a bid to improve the experience for in-stadia and at-home fans.
The Oakland, California-based team piloted a Facebook Messenger 'chatbot' last April for the NBA play-offs, giving fans a virtual assistant powered by artificial intelligence.
The success of that pilot led the Warriors to roll out chatbot on Messenger for the full 2017-18 season, and the franchise will now replicate the technology on Viber, Rakuten’s instant messaging platform, in the coming months, according to Daniel Brusilovsky, digital initiatives lead at the Warriors.
Speaking at the Sports Performance Data and Fan Engagement Summit in San Francisco, Brusilovsky said: “We launched Warriors chatbot under the notion it would be a play-offs assistant only, which would then give us the summer to see what worked and what didn’t work ahead of a full season launch.
“We built it as a guided experience, and it’s generated so much data already. We are now looking to our corporate partnerships team to see who it makes sense to partner with to make this a viable new revenue stream for the team.
“We have Rakuten as a jersey sponsor and they own Viber, so our next big move will be to launch Warriors chatbot on Viber. We have to be where our fans are. Sure, there are millions and millions on Messenger, but there are fair few million on Viber too that we want to service.”
The chatbot engages with fans on a one-on-one basis to provide live news and score updates, highlights, player stats, and help purchasing tickets or merchandise.
For fans at the Warrior’s Oracle Arena, the bot can show the nearest concession stand and provide traffic or parking updates.
Rakuten, which is paying the Warriors around $60 million over the course of a three-year agreement to have its logo appear on the front left shoulder of the team's shirts, is also the shirt sponsor of Spanish soccer giants Barcelona.
Within two months of launching a chatbot on Viber, following its deal with Rakuten, Barcelona claimed to have picked up 4.5 million followers.
While the artificial intelligence technology is still in its nascent stages, it is eventually expected to be the go-to place for fans to be able to buy tickets, which the Warriors could seek to implement for the start of the 2019-20 season, when the team moves into its new state-of-the art $1.1-billion Chase Arena in San Francisco.
Rakuten Viber is already an official platform for the NBA, following a $225-million, multi-year deal with the league, announced in October, which makes Rakuten the exclusive online distributor of live games in Japan.