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Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen probably didn’t think that the company he co-founded would one day help his NBA team sell more tickets and engage with fans more effectively. But that’s exactly what the Portland Trail Blazers are doing with Microsoft’s Cortana Intelligence Suite.

The team, owned by Allen since 1988, is using Microsoft’s big data predictive analytics software to learn more about how fans might purchase season tickets, as the company details in this blog post. The Trail Blazers’ marketing team uses Cortana Intelligence to identify different purchasing and attendance patterns among fans to figure out who might be more likely to become a new season ticket holder.

We first learned of this pilot program last month at the Moda Center in Portland, where the Trail Blazers hosted reporters for a run-down of the technology that the front office uses to improve the fan experience, sell more tickets, and much more.

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This diagram details the “fan journey,” showing how technology can help improve the experience for customers depending on their level of engagement with the team.

Speaking of season tickets, the Blazers recently allowed season-ticket holders to use the team’s mobile app to renew their contracts for next season, becoming the first franchise in professional sports to do so. Vincent Ircandia, senior vice president of business operations, noted that if the Blazers tried something similar even three years ago, “we would have gotten incredible pushback.”

Dewayne Hankins, senior vice president of brand strategy & digital, and Vincent Ircandia, senior vice president of business operations.
Dewayne Hankins, senior vice president of brand strategy & digital, and Vincent Ircandia, senior vice president of business operations.

But now fans are more comfortable using their phones as a remote control for their lives, and the Blazers are responding. It took a lot of horsepower to activate this feature, with a mobile app partner, the renewal site developer, and Ticketmaster all participating, but the team is happy with the investment.

“We had 95 percent of season ticket holders renew, and 5 percent did so in the app,” Ircandia said. “We think that is significant. That is a lot of money.”

The team is partnering with a handful of local tech companies to test everything from proximity beacons inside the Moda Center to a parking app to barcode-scanning technology. You can read more about that here.

After losing four starters and entering the season with the league’s lowest payroll, the Blazers are perhaps the biggest surprise of the NBA in 2016. They crushed expectations and won 44 regular season games before again trumping critics with a playoff series win over the Los Angeles Clippers. The team is down 2-1 to the defending champion Golden State Warriors in the second round. Game 4 is Monday night in Portland.

Hat tip WinBeta

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