Charlotte Hornets Launch the NBA's "First-Ever Virtual Fan Store"
Tech company Meetkai worked with the NBA's Charlotte Hornets on an immersive eCommerce experience making a part of fandom more accessible.
Following sports is about more than numbers and buying fan merchandise is more than a transaction. The team behind the Charlotte Hornets believes that supporting a team should be an experience. So, they teamed up with interactive technology company Meetkai to rethink how fans shop online.
“As technology continues to evolve, it's important that we meet our fans where they are and this is a great opportunity to enhance that connection,” Hornets Sports and Entertainment president and vice chairman Fred Whitfield said in a release shared with MIXED. “We're excited to offer this innovative opportunity.”
Recreating the Hornets Fan Shop
Visiting the Hornets Fan Shop in their home Spectrum Stadium is a special experience that not all fans can enjoy. Fans can buy all of the same merchandise online, but it isn't the same. When the Charlotte Hornets approached Meetkai for an interactive eCommerce experience, Meetkai started with the physical experience.
“If you think about a lot of experiences around XR and metaverse, they are trying to replace the physical where here the goal is to make the fan experience more accessible,” Meetkai CEO and Cofounder James Kaplan told MIXED. “The goal really is about the fan experience rather than being pure retail.”
Kaplan and his team started with blueprints and CAD models of the physical Fan Shop. Artisans and AI then fleshed out this “skeleton” for a true digital twin, slightly embellished with some virtual touches. Stacks of folded clothing items aren't necessary in a virtual store, and in a virtual store art and graphics can float in mid-air.
“You want to have it be something that really closely resembles the emotions that you would have going into the physical space,” said Kaplan. “But it doesn't make sense to recreate everything one-to-one virtually.”
Stocking the Virtual Shelves
More than fifty items are currently available in the virtual Fan Shop, represented as 3D assets in the virtual space. Meetkai created these assets out of an extensive photo library provided by Fanatics, the company that stocks the physical Fan Shop and fulfills the orders and shipping for the virtual store.
“This was the plan ... That an individual can purchase something for themselves that they can wear,” Charlotte Hornets chief marketing officer Seth Bennet told MIXED. He didn't rule out digital collectibles in the Fan Shop. “We've participated in that space and we're not ruling out the potential to do that at some point.”
Kaplan described the process of creating 3D assets from the Fanatics files to be “automatic or near automatic” so more items and new items can be added to the virtual Fan Shop as they are added to the physical Fan Shop.
Virtual Try-on and Virtual Meet-ups
Meetkai has also built in a tool for shoppers to create realistic avatars. These allow shoppers to navigate the space and virtually try on clothing before purchase. Shoppers can even see the avatars of other shoppers.
“The avatar element really was a nice addition,” said Bennet. “You could have this mutual connection with a friend … I do think that that will be a cool factor and a community-building tool.”
Kaplan explained that there are no communication tools for users at this time, but the team experimented with a number of options to roll out in the future.
“The value of this being software is that it can always evolve,” said Kaplan.
The Future of NBA Shops?
This shop is billed as the “first of its kind” not “the only of its kind.” We asked if the virtual Hornets Fan Shop would be a model for others. You can visit the virtual Fan Shop and make up your own mind, but Bennet seems certain:
“I think this will garnish a lot of interest,” said Bennet. “I do anticipate that I will get quite a few calls from colleagues in the league asking me for more information on this.”