The National Basketball Association (NBA) says technology and social media is helping the organisation spread its wings beyond North America and to recreate the arena experience for home viewers.
International expansion is a priority for NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who was in London for a match between New York Knicks and Milwaukee Bucks at the O2, and said the sports industry had an advantage over other forms of entertainment because they’re best viewed live – making it difficult for viewers to skip adverts, and presumably turn to piracy.
However because most matches take place in the US or Canada, they are not particularly time-zone friendly to many markets, including the UK, making social engagement all the more important.
“The main driver of turning [basketball] into a global game has been technology – i.e. the league’s ability to bring our games and the social aspect of our game directly to our fans in 215 countries,” Silver told the Leaders Meet Innovation conference. “I feel that technology is part and parcel of everything we do in terms of distributing the game and how our fans consume it.
“Because they’re in the middle of the night [in the UK] we have to find other ways to create engagement. Much of that is through social media.”
Silver said that once fans enter a stadium or arena they become part of a collective experience through booing, cheering and discussing the game, and Twitter helps replicate this, especially with regards to coaching or refereeing decisions.
“It’s biological; you want to be part of something larger,” he said. “That’s what’s so wonderful about sports and team sports in particular.
“If you round it up statistically, one hundred percent of our fans don’t go to games, they experience it through some form of media”
Courtside experience at home
Silver described the NBA’s technological efforts as “the ongoing experimentation to find new ways to engage new fans in a new way that makes it more understandable.”
This includes offering different audio feeds for those who are familiar with basketball and those who are new to the game as well as 4K video and 360 degree camera angles that can be viewed though virtual reality systems that can replicate the courtside seat experience. From mid-March, the league will offer international broadcasters an intermission feed so TV viewers never have to leave the arena for a studio set.
SAP has worked with the NBA on its new statistics portal, which provides fans with every box score since 1946, advanced shooting charts, in-depth breakdowns and player pages. The league admits that a lot of the data won’t mean a lot to fans, but is working on making it more accessible and believed it was important to make its records publicly available.
Larger, better quality video screens allow spectators to have the same “relationship” as they do with their own TV, while stadium Wi-Fi lets fans access social media and enjoy their second screen.
“We think going to an NBA game is never challenged by home view,” said Steve Hellmuth, executive vice president of technology and operations at the NBA. “We want to make that experience in-venues unique.”
An example of this is the Replay Centre, which was opened at the start of the 2014-15 season, and aims to speed up the process of video referrals during games. Twelve camera feeds from every match are transmitted to a facility in New Jersey, where officials ‘queue’ up the best angles for the referee to view on a courtside monitor, speeding up a “mindnumbing” process for fans in the arena by half the time.
“There’re so many calls, so many scores and action in an NBA game,” explained Silver. “Of course we want to get it right but we also want a smooth flowing game.”
On the court, the use of analytics is also impacting the sport of basketball. General Managers, who draft and sign players, and coaches, who pick the team, can benefit from detailed analysis on numerous situations.
Silver is confident that technology will continue to change the sport on and off the court and loves attending technology conferences to get new ideas.
“So many of the young technologists are sports fans and we’re often the beneficiaries. We’re happy on a test basis to licence them footage, come to our arenas and experiment.
“In markets like the UK in order to grow our fan base, we need to increase engagement.”