Humza Teherany’s crystal ball suggests that in five years, you might be watching the Toronto Raptors or Maple Leafs on your coffee table. That doesn’t sound very compelling until MLSE’s chief technology and digital officer mentions the device that’s sitting on the coffee table is projecting the game onto the wall or into the air as a holographic image. Layered on top of the basic viewing experience, a live chat allows fans to interact with each other or even the team’s mascot. A separate window tracks individual players’ performances in real-time.
The excitement in Teherany’s voice is palpable.
“I do think things will get there,” he told ITBusiness.ca in an interview.
But first – baby steps. Or in this case, MLSE’s new digital arena platform, a significant update for its Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors apps that aims to set a new standard for second-screen experiences in pro sports.
“We see this as an augmentation to how people are going to consume sports in the future,” Teherany said.
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Developed by the company’s in-house technology team Digital Labs in partnership with Vancouver-headquartered Tradable Bits Media, the digital arena lets users engage with some of the fun and games offered at Scotiabank Arena: Live trivia, live stats tracking and prize giveaways. A live chat adds another layer of interactivity with for fans.
Early testing shows the digital arena has already led to users spending 20-25 per cent more time on the app than they normally would. Teherany expects those numbers to go up once other capabilities are layered on that track puck and player speeds as well as other real-time athlete performance metrics.
Teherany says their sports apps don’t compete with other sports apps, and instead provide a deep view and access to the Raptors and the Leafs.
The Raptors and the Leafs boast some of the most enthusiastic fan bases in their leagues, and both teams have a strong social media following. The Raptors have 2.3 million followers on Twitter and 3.3 million on Instagram. For the Leafs, the numbers are 1.9 million on Twitter and 1.1 million on Instagram.
But a talented development team undoubtedly plays a big part in the app’s success. MLSE’s in-house technology team Digital Labs is one of the world’s largest technology companies within any pro sports organization, and since Teherany became MLSE’s chief technology and digital officer in 2018 the team has grown from 50 to 150.
Over the years, Digital Labs has hired software engineers, application developers, data scientists, game designers, program and product managers as well as UX designers. Companies like Vancouver’s Tradable Bits Media likely won’t be the last partners the MLSE works with.
“There will be others that will be plugged into it in the future more than likely,” Teherany said about the digital arena’s ongoing development. “It’s Canadian tech that’s setting the pace in terms of these platforms that other North American media companies and sports organizations are looking at.
“We’re proud to foster Canadian tech and Canadian tech talent.”