How the NBA is Driving Fan Loyalty with Web3

December 11, 2023

Kenzi Inman, Director of Global Event Strategy & Development at the NBA, recently joined the D2 X Advertising Week event to talk about how the NBA is leaning into Web3 technology. During the pandemic, she spent time learning about the platforms that live events use to meaningfully engage with our fans to better understand and inform the NBA’s emerging Web3 strategy.

The NBA is now focused on using this emerging technology to address a few fundamental challenges with the way fans interact with the live sports business. One challenge has been around seat licenses, when touring events happen in a different venue year to year. Inman offered the question “how do we guarantee our fans access to events multiple years in advance when we have no idea what platform we’re operating on sometimes nine months before the event even happens?” As a result, NFTs are the tech of choice because they provide long-term utility to fans with exclusive access to events and ticketing. The NBA is excited about using this technology to “scale the unscalable” and surprise and delight fans in ways that they haven’t done before.

Meral Arik, Co-Founder, Passage Labs, hosted the discussion with Kenzi at D2 X Advertising Week. She asked some forward-thinking questions about the technology the NBA is leaning into.

Read an Excerpt About NBA & Web3

Meral: Could you share some examples of different initiatives across Web3, the Metaverse, AR, VR, where the NBA is focusing its efforts?

Kenzi: Most recently, we’ve been using a lot of AR and VR technology integrated into the NBA events app which is our one-stop shop platform for anyone attending an NBA event to understand what’s going on, to get a map and a schedule to understand the programming. But more excitedly for us to engage with the brand, to win some free stuff that’s not out of a T-shirt cannon, but instead exists as an AR pop-up activation within the app. So you’re having fans only being able to access these activations in certain locations, which is how we meaningfully engage with the host and local partners. But fans also being exposed to technology which helps develop that ecosystem and makes them more palatable, let’s say, to new technology and further activations in the future. We’ve seen a lot of success with AR integrations into the existing NBA app and found that if a fan engages once with that type of activation within the rewards program, almost 99% sure you’re going to return and activate within the rewards program again.

Meral: How do you think about measuring impact of fan engagement and loyalty overall?

Kenzi: The NBA is focused on leveraging this technology to figure out what fans like and don’t like. So more so than revenue targets candidly right now, we’re focused on seeing what fans engage with, and how they engage with these items, and after they engage with those items, what are they do next. So, the goal is to tell the story of a single fan month over month, event over event, year over year, and start to build a platform around this one individual at scale, which now applies to multiple individuals.

Meral: The NBA seems to be thinking long-term in general. How are you using emerging tech to drive business outcomes while continuing to drive the effectiveness of loyalty and engagement programs you already have going on?

Kenzi: One of the NBA’s priorities in the long-term is not necessarily doing the same thing for the long-term but trying new things and then staying engaged in the conversation time and time again, event over event. One thing that we’ve learned to do at the NBA, somewhat ironically, is to fail fast, which is almost impossible in a large corporation. But when we find these little pockets of solving main priorities and telling primary stories with technology, it’s really important to continually evaluate that technology and commit to staying committed for the long-term, but not necessarily committed to the same type of activation or the same type of development, if that’s not where your fans are going.

“One metric is customer lifetime value, which is another thing we’re really focused on. We found post-COVID that fans who attend live NBA events are 3.7 times more valuable than a standard NBA fan who doesn’t otherwise attend events. They spend more on merchandise…more on concessions when they’re attending events, and they engage with our brand more meaningfully across social media platforms. Fans who do engage with these emerging technologies are over double the value of other fans attending live events.”


Key learnings from the NBA’s early adoption of Web3 technology include:

  • NBA players love technology. They invest in these types of companies and fans follow players off the court just as much as they do on the court. This helps the NBA.
  • Sometimes fans understand this emerging technology much better than they understand group play for the end season tournament.
  • Commissioner Silver runs the NBA’s Tech Summit every year and that type of leader who serves our organization and helps us collaborate at every level really instills in us the importance of leveraging technology to achieve our objectives more widely.
  • Not mentioning the technology itself (behind an NFT or AR/VR activation) or the story behind the scenes, help drives fan engagement.
  • We are focused on staying a part of the conversation more so than we are focused on leading the conversation. The NBA acknowledges there are people in the world who know this stuff a lot better than we do, but we’re committed to staying engaged.

Watch the entire session video YouTube Video and resources.

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