Click photo to enlarge
A screenshot of the Golden State Warriors' mobile app.

The next time you head to a Warriors game, you might want to make sure to pack your smartphone or tablet along with your team hat and T-shirt.

The local NBA team is trying to make the Oracle Arena a very mobile-friendly place. In recent months, the Warriors have rolled out a free arenawide Wi-Fi network, an indoor antenna system to help frustrated cellphone users get a better signal and most recently, an iPhone app.

The app, which the Warriors unveiled this month, shows team news, lists upcoming games, displays players virtual trading cards, includes promotional offers and has links to Web pages where users can buy jerseys and tickets online.

"We're really just scratching the surface," said Rick Welts, the Warriors' president. "I really feel like sports will benefit as much as anything from technology today."

Indeed, Welts and the Warriors are already planning new features and updates. In the future, fans may be able to use the app instead of a paper ticket to gain entrance to a game. They could also use it to upgrade their seats after they walk into the arena or order food from the concession stands from the comfort of their seat and pick it up when ready at the nearest kiosk, rather than having to wait in a long line.

Nearer term, team fans who don't have iPhones should be able to join in the fun. This summer, the team plans to release an Android app, and is considering an iPad version.


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The app and the technology behind it -- a customer relations database built for the team by Tibco Software, whose CEO, Vivek Ranadivé, is a co-owner of the team -- should help the team better serve customers, said Welts.

With paper tickets, for example, the team often has little idea who sits in the arena's seats on a given night. But with e-tickets that are tied to a specific account, the team could note that a particular fan appeared to be most interested in seeing the Warriors play the Lakers, Kings and Spurs -- and then be able to offer ticket packages that are catered to those particular preferences.

The Warriors are one of a growing number of teams that are embracing digital technologies. The 49ers have said that their new stadium in Santa Clara is going to be a technological marvel. Two other NBA teams are offering Wi-Fi to fans in their arenas, according to the Warriors, while six other NBA teams have mobile apps.

Pretty much all pro sports teams are interested in such technologies to improve marketing and better cater to fans, said Andy Dolich, a former executive for the Warriors, 49ers and Oakland A's who runs his own sports consulting firm.

Consumers are beginning to expect to have access to cellphone networks and the Internet inside sports venues just as they do anywhere else, say marketing and consumer behavior experts. And they are going to want to be able to connect with their teams using the same technology that they use to connect with other businesses.

"When you consider what is available to you wirelessly when checking into an airport, getting tickets for a flight or checking into some hotels, these ideas seem to be perfect in concept for sports stadiums," said Deena M. Amato-McCoy, a research analyst at Aberdeen Group, a business consulting firm.

But meeting fans' expectations could prove challenging, Dolich said. Not all venues are well suited for Wi-Fi or for offering decent cellphone connection, he said. And fans aren't going to be happy if, even with the new technology, the team can't handle what Dolich calls "the basics," like keeping waiting lines short at the concession stand or in the parking lot.

"If they told me that they have 200 bells and 400 whistles and it still takes me an hour and a half to get out of the park, here's where you can put those 200 bells and whistles," he said.

Dolich added that teams also need to figure out how to make sure that new technologies don't distract from fans watching and appreciating the live games. In a recent interview with ESPN's Bill Simmons, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban cited just such a concern, saying he'd rather spend time and money on making the arena an exciting place to visit than on enhancing the way fans can use technology inside it.

"I don't want people looking down (at their phones)," he said. "I want people looking up and contributing to the energy."

The Warriors and other teams may also find resistance to the new technologies from some fans. With the growing awareness about online behavioral tracking and targeted advertising, some fans may be reluctant to have their moves tracked by their team. And some may worry that teams could use e-tickets to crack down on fans selling their tickets to other fans.

Welts said the Warriors plan on making its digital marketing efforts optional. But he thinks that most fans will participate.

"Ultimately, the consumer will choose," he said, But he predicted that "we're on the cusp of a transformation" in the way fans and teams interact.

Contact Troy Wolverton at 408-840-4285. Follow him at Twitter.com/troywolv.