After over 30 years of near consistent heartbreak, cellar-dwelling stats and threats of the team leaving the city – with a couple of flirting-with-greatness seasons – fans of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings finally have something they can all cheer for: a technological wonder called the Golden 1 Center.
The new arena, a 700,000 square-foot arena and entertainment complex in downtown Sacramento, cost $557 million, and the city will pay $18.3 million each year to fund the project, which won’t expire until 2050. According to the Sacramento Bee, the city valued its arena subsidy at $255 million, but by the time it’s paid off, the total principal and interest payments will total nearly $626 million.
Is it worth it? Judging from the excitement of the thousands of fans at its September open house, the answer is a resounding yes. Plus, the center is proving to be a major job generator. Not only did the construction of the massive arena bring in jobs like concrete, steel fabrication, plumbers, sheet metal installers and other building jobs, the events at the arena, including the first big concert of Paul McCartney, are employing 2,000 per night, up several hundred from the previous arena.
A tech arena that tops the rest
It’s the technology perks that have many buzzing. Kings owner and chairman Vivek Ranadive, who made his money in Silicon Valley, made sure that tech was a major part of the build. Golden 1 Credit Union bought the naming rights for millions of dollars and the financial cooperative has set up seven ATMs in and around the building. But that barely scratches the surface of the technical and engineering marvels inside.
They created a new style of suite seating – the loft, an 8-person mini-suite level for those who don’t want to go all out for the 25-person suites. The arena has “smart turnstiles,” a security system with facial recognition, plus 600 video displays. An in-house wi-fi network has 1,000 access points and runs at a speed the team said is 17,000 times faster than the average home network. The Kings smartphone app is designed to let fans navigate the building, along with using it to watch live action and replays from numerous angles, order food and merchandise from their seats, or find the shortest restroom lines, according to a story by the Bee.
The arena features the largest indoor electronic scoreboard, an 84-foot behemoth with a main screen of 44-feet across. At the base of the building is a “living wall” of plants, and the leaf-designed aluminum panels bump out to give light and views of the city.
“You should think of this entire building as a giant Tesla,” Vivek Ranadivé said during a recent tour, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle. He explained that “the building gets smarter every day. Rather than you having to check into the arena, the arena will just be checking into you. It should tell you how to get there, where to park, how to get to your seat. It should cater to you.”
Kings chief technology officer, Ryan Montoya, talked about how Ranadive’s vision is all about enhancing the fan experience.
“Through advanced technology – beacons, virtual reality, mobile payment, our app that serves as the remote control – we’re creating a hyper-personalized experience for our fans. We’re able to do things that have never been done before like rewarding loyal customers and fans on-demand, providing exclusive content and access in real-time, and redefining what an arena experience is,” he said.
Many arenas over the years have become obsolete before their time, and Montoya said that the Golden 1 Center was built with the long term in mind.
“Part of the challenge was to build an arena for 10 to 15 years down the road. To do that we delivered unmatched connectivity – a 200 gigabit per-second internet connection to the facility – a network that is only limited by the capacity of the fan’s mobile device, and a plan to upgrade and update as new technology emerges and fan needs change. For example, the back-end platform of our new dual-mode app – for the team and arena – has the ability to plug in new features and options quickly. They can be turned on by our in-house team with a few keystrokes, instead of having to constantly go back and forth to create a patch each time,” said Montoya.
Part of the technology that went into the design was to make the arena a sustainable entity, including sourcing the food as locally as possible, which was important not only to the developers but also the residents and fans, according to Kings president, Chris Granger.
“We live in the ‘City of Trees,’ the farm-to-fork capital of the world, and the origin of some of the world’s most progressive climate action legislation. When we began the arena planning process we surveyed over 20,000 Sacramentans. At the top of their list of ‘things the arena had to be’ was green. Through our partner, Legends Hospitality, we created an unprecedented program that sources 90% of the arena’s food and beverage within 150 miles. We’re uniquely positioned at the center of one of the most bountiful and diverse agricultural regions in the world. It’s fitting that we take advantage of the high-quality food that is produced right here in our back yard,” he said.
Granger and the rest of the Kings brass are working to make the arena area a destination, and one that keeps people downtown long after the workday ends. Unlike other efforts to do that which haven’t paid off, like the Rose Quarter in Portland, which never caught on, the Golden 1 Center has more potential.
Granger noted that Sacramento doesn’t have much of a gathering place for people to connect, celebrate and recharge, but thinks that the revitalization of downtown, started by the arena, can continue with a retail, residential, entertainment and lifestyle project called Downtown Commons, or DOCO.
“This new entertainment district includes the arena and is centered around a three-acre public plaza that wraps gently around the building. It is designed to complement and enhance the arena experience with all the great elements typically associated with grand public squares. There will be something for everyone at DOCO – great dining, live entertainment, hand-crafted cocktails, farmer’s markets, and more. Downtown Sacramento has been craving an infusion of energy and spirit, and the arena and DOCO have already breathed life into a once sleepy part of town,” he said.
To help promote the arena, the Kings hired 25-person Sacramento creative shop, Glass Agency. The agency is building a campaign called “Sacramento Amplified,” a multiplatform push to promote the stadium just ahead of the season tipoff. The campaign will encompass B-to-C and B-to-B work, including branding, social and online digital executions, print ads, outdoor signage and partnerships with concert promoters.
“Glass Agency is the perfect example of how Sacramento is claiming its rightful place, nationally and beyond, as a modern city transforming the way the world thinks,” said Granger. “The Glass team's energetic, clever creative will help establish the Golden 1 Center as the coliseum of the 21st century.”
Whether this vision will come to fruition and be a success remains to be seen, but with a fiercely loyal fanbase for the Kings, and a renewed interest in the downtown core – including being near the tourist attraction of Old Sacramento – success may come to the Golden 1 Center, even if a Kings championship seems a dream right now.