General Electric, based in Boston, has signed a deal with one the city’s most beloved institutions: the NBA’s Boston Celtics.
GE’s logo will appear on the team’s hallowed green-and-white uniforms starting next season. And the Celtics will use technology from GE’s health, energy, and data analytics businesses in daily operations, GE and team executives said Wednesday morning.
Financial terms were not disclosed at a press event at GE’s (GE) temporary headquarters in South Boston.
On the tech side, the press release announcing the deal stated that GE will become the Celtics’ “exclusive data and analytics partner.” But in response to questions from Fortune, officials walked that back a bit.
“We do a lot of stuff in house now and use external partners to analyze data on the court,” said Michael Zarren, assistant general manager and team counsel for the Celtics. The team’s current data suppliers will remain as will its partners that analyze the data. “It’ s not a binary thing,” he said.
Instead, GE’s Predix software will serve as a sort of data repository and analsyis engine for the team.
Under chief executive Jeff Immelt, GE has pushed to recast itself as a power in big data analytics and cloud computing technology. The pitch is that GE doesn’t just manufacture jet engines and medical equipment, it can also aggregate and analyze the petabytes of data generated by the equipment it sells and then use that information to avoid downtime for customers, and assure them peak performance.
Given the massive push by professional sports into data analytics, there is a fit. One season of “tracing data,” tracking the movement of players and the ball around the court to assess speed and other parameters of players, represents 4 billion data points, Zarren said. “It takes people who are used to dealing with big data sets to get good at that.”
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Linda Boff, GE’s chief marketing officer, said that data crunching is GE’s stock in trade. “We specialize in big data sets coming from locomotives and airplanes so we feel comfortable that we have the ability to do this.”
Zarren added that the team is also keen to use GE’s medical and health equipment. For example, the team may use GE bone density scanners and other gear to help players stay healthy and/or recover from injury faster.
GE clearly hopes that other than exposing its logo to millions of basketball fans worldwide, the deal will show that Predix can provide valuable insights to improve both individual player and team performance. The Celtics may also use GE lighting and energy expertise at its new practice facility being built just a few miles west of the TD Garden, aka the Boston Garden, where the Celtics play their home games.
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Executives at the event on Wednesday including Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca, painted the convergence of two iconic brands—GE was founded in 1892 and the Celtics in 1946—as a win for both.
They also downplayed any notion that the uniform patches will irritate long-time Celtics fans, who can be cantankerous, or that they might conversely anger fans of the rival L.A. Lakers or New York Knicks. For the record, GE moved its headquarters from Fairfield, Connecticut to Boston last year.
Boff, who said she grew up in Knicks territory, declined comment on any potential blowback from that quarter.