There was no dozing off at Sleep Train Arena on Wednesday night. And it wasn’t just because it was opening night for the Sacramento Kings. Or that DeMarcus Cousins was suddenly draining feather-soft three-point shots. Or even that the home team roared back from a 15-point deficit before ultimately falling short.
It was also because the place was alight – literally – after 17,500 fans were outfitted with special glowing bracelets that could be activated remotely.
The LED wristbands, which the fans got to keep, toggled from purple to white light with each natural human movement. In addition, under the direction of 24 remote infrared transmitters mounted on the arena scoreboard, they splashed multiple hues, illuminating the facility in unexpected symphonies of color.
During the national anthem, as attendees sang “and the rockets’ red glare,” thousands of bracelets suddenly lit up, bathing the building in crimson and drawing surprised cheers and gasps from the crowd.
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“It took the experience to another level. It shocked people,” said Chris Cabbat, a season-ticket holder sitting in the upper deck. “No one was told what was coming.”
The bracelets and their concert-like special effects flooded Sleep Train in purple in support of the Kings. And the place went gold, green and red when British pop singer Natasha Bedingfield performed at halftime.
“The beauty of (the wristbands) is that you can engage the crowd and make them part of the show, rather than just observers,” Kings President Chris Granger said. “It’s a lot of fun.”
The lighting experience was another innovative idea from the basketball franchise headed by software executive Vivek Ranadive. In recent years, the Kings have worked to position themselves as a tech-forward organization. This past year, they became the first major pro sports team in America to accept the online currency Bitcoin. More recently, they invested in a virtual-reality company and trotted out three security robots to patrol the arena.
The bracelets, which bore the label of Kings sponsor Panasonic, are manufactured by a Montreal company called PixMob. They were famously given to fans to wear to enhance the sensory experience during the 2014 Super Bowl halftime show featuring Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
They were also used at the opening ceremonies for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, as well as at the NBA All-Star Game in New York in February. Taylor Swift has used them for her “1989” tour. The Kings were the first team to debut them in a regular-season NBA game.
“Our main goal is to connect crowds and reinvent rituals,” said Jean Olivier, a partner in PixMob, which bills itself as “a crowd experience company.” The firm has provided lighting accessories – from wearable wristbands and pendants to crowd-floating beach balls – for some 350 events, mostly concerts and corporate functions.
Kings fans received their devices as they entered the arena Wednesday night. Cabbat said an usher told him: “You’re going to be part of the show.” At first, the wrist-watch-like devices didn’t seem to do anything – until the show began and the soft silicone bracelets were activated. The wristbands contain batteries that last for three to seven days. They reportedly cost $5 to $10 per person.
Olivier said the devices can be programmed to deliver planned lighting effects or to spontaneously – and collectively – illuminate in response to the excitement of the moment. The Kings will distribute them at multiple games this year, bringing fans into the show, Granger said.
Meanwhile, PixMob is working on incorporating more visual drama and luminescent color into their devices, Olivier said.
“(Fans) will expect something, but they won’t know what,” Olivier said. “There will be that magic moment, that collective gasp of ‘what?!’ It gives me goose bumps.”