How Calgary’s StellarAlgo broke into the big leagues

News & Media

Jun 22, 2023


From The Logic

NBA-backed startup uses data, machine learning to bring ‘Moneyball’ analytics to the fan experience

Vincent Ircandia, CEO of StellarAlgo, in Calgary in June 2023. Photo: Jeff McIntosh for The Logic

CALGARY⁠ — Vincent Ircandia gestures at a TV screen on the wall of his Calgary office, where a dashboard displays reams of data gathered by StellarAlgo, the sports-fan engagement platform he co-founded.

On the screen is data the company prepared for the Portland Trail Blazers of the National Basketball Association. A series of charts displays information about things like fans’ purchase histories and their engagement with emails from the team. Below them, a map details which cities present opportunities for Portland to attract new fans or sell advertising and merchandise. Despite being located in Oregon, the team appears to have significant opportunity to expand its brand down in California, according to the data: Los Angeles, San Diego and Oakland are ripe with would-be Blazer fans.

“This is where we really differentiate, and [where] we understand the fans well,” Ircandia says.

With co-founders Joseph King and Sean Fynn, Ircandia launched StellarAlgo in 2016 in an effort to harness data and machine learning to give professional sports franchises better insight into the spending habits of billions of sports fans worldwide. StellarAlgo’s technology works by gathering data from a range of sources—ticket sales, streaming platforms, social media, fantasy sports leagues or merchandise purchases—and pulls them together into a centralized, interactive dashboard.

“Historically, that data was all siloed and wasn’t really connected in a way that allowed these teams to really, truly understand their fans,” Ircandia said. “So that’s where just spamming fans happened. What we try to do is use that data for good.”

The insights that teams can derive from StellarAlgo’s amalgamated data underpinned the company’s partnership with the NBA earlier this year, which gave it potential access to the data of all of the league’s 30 franchises. The deal also saw the NBA take an undisclosed equity stake in the Calgary company through NBA Equity, its venture capital arm. (As of February, NBA Equity had invested in around 20 companies with a combined equity value of roughly US$1 billion.)

Backed by Vancouver VC fund Yaletown Partners and Calgary’s Thin Air Labs and InterGen, StellarAlgo now crunches data for over 100 sports properties representing more than 200 million fans.

StellarAlgo’s platform, Ircandia says, analyzes and predicts fan behaviour in such a way that allows organizations to shape which fans they target for, say, an ad campaign or a ticket sale.

Data on StellarAlgo’s dashboard can be filtered to provide how much revenue a sports team has generated from a specific slice of its fanbase according to age, location, or other information. It can differentiate between “avid” fans and those whom the organization is at risk of losing, based on purchase history and other predictive data.

A fan who buys courtside NBA tickets, Ircandia said, might be targeted for a different set of ads or sales than someone who sits in the upper bowl. Analytics can also tell teams whom not to target. As an example, data gathered by the Denver Nuggets, when viewed in isolation, might suggest that a certain fan buys two tickets to watch that team every year. But on closer inspection, after data has been layered together, that person might actually be a Phoenix Suns fan who only buys tickets when the visiting team is in town.

StellarAlgo claims these sharper insights can drive major returns to franchises and other companies by making their advertising and sales efforts leaner and more targeted. Using the company’s algorithms, according to its website, the LA Galaxy soccer team derived over US$532,000 in higher revenues by using machine learning to generate a ranking system that prioritized fans.

The technology has also been used to establish connections between companies. Ircandia describes how under a recent contract, StellarAlgo worked with Levi Strauss to help the American jean maker sign up San Francisco 49ers fans for its rewards program. Using StellarAlgo’s data, Levi’s was able to convert 49ers devotees at five times the rate of its other similar campaigns.

In an interview with The Logic earlier this year, David Lee, head of NBA Equity, said the partnership with StellarAlgo will enable the league to better “navigate and customize the fan experience.”

The NBA, by Lee’s reckoning, is among the most popular sports leagues in the world when accounting for followers across the various social media platforms. As it looks to expand its reach, the league will increasingly turn to those who only follow it online.

“Only about one per cent of our fans are ever going to step foot in our arenas to see games there. We need to engage them wherever they are.”

Ircandia, a former Division 1 baseball player in university, started his business career in 2009 with the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings, who hired him to lead their customer data strategy. At the time, he said, the Kings were at the forefront of what he calls the “Moneyball movement” of professional sports—a reference to the Michael Lewis book of the same name that details how the underdog Oakland Athletics baseball team used advanced statistics to get a competitive edge, finding inefficiencies in baseball’s talent market to acquire effective players that richer teams overlooked.

Others, in baseball and beyond, began to follow suit and, by the time Ircandia joined the Kings, analytics had begun to seep into every aspect of sports management—including fan engagement and outreach.

“Owners started to see the results they were having from using data to better understand player moves, and they started thinking about, ‘How can we use technology and data, as well, to make really sound business decisions and build our really strong fan base?’”

By 2016, Ircandia was working for the Trail Blazers, where he and other representatives for the Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers and Orlando Magic would meet regularly with NBA officials about how to expand the league’s presence and better engage with fans.

Ircandia took that knowledge with him to launch StellarAlgo alongside King and Fynn shortly thereafter.

Just as the Moneyball concept quickly spread beyond the sports world, StellarAlgo has begun expanding beyond sports franchises, and now works with companies like SkipTheDishes and Toyota. But sports remains its core business, and since the deal with the NBA, Ircandia said he’s had interest from the English Premier League, which could let StellarAlgo tap into the fanatical fanbase of the world’s leading soccer league.

“This NBA announcement, frankly, has been really big for us, [and has] driven more attention domestically—but then overseas, as well.”

– View the original article on The Logic

More fans.

Better Engagement.

Stellar Results.

Get Started