Just a few years ago, Asim Pasha was a top executive at a medical technology firm. Today, his office is a skybox. As the chief information officer for Sporting Kansas City, he sits amid a cluster of computer terminals watching the action unfold in Livestrong Sporting Park. But he's not looking at the field. To help fans connect in real time, Pasha has created games within the game: a series of mobile apps and social-networking options that boost team spirit—and drive more ticket and merch sales.
"It's all about making sure a fan has an enjoyable experience, regardless of what happens in the game," explains Joe Favorito, a sports-marketing consultant and professor at Columbia University. Do that and fans will keep buying hot dogs, blowout be damned. Pasha's crew is at the forefront of the philosophy. Other organizations . . . aren't. Over the past three years, Cisco has outfitted more than 30 sports complexes with tech elements similar to those found at Livestrong. So far, most teams are only using them to augment traditional moneymakers, hawking unsold seats via text discounts or offering apps with directions to the nearest concession stand.
Sporting Kansas City wants to show them the way. Last year, the club launched Sporting Innovations, a consultancy designed to help teams across sports refine their live digital and mobile experiences. (SI has several contracts pending.) This is the example it's setting at home.
A version of this article appeared in the March 2012 issue of Fast Company magazine.