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The NBA is Using Virtual Reality & eSports To Take the Fan Experience to the Next Level

One of the most progressive sports leagues has taken yet another step in the direction of innovation and technology. The National Basketball Association (NBA), which has received much praise throughout the years for groundbreaking moves such as enlisting Michele Roberts to become the first female NBA executive director, to giving Becky Hammon her shot at becoming the first woman head coach, is now developing new platforms that can take the game to the next level. Within the last year, the NBA has made intriguing business moves that can expand the games global reach. In November, the NBA announced it is teaming up with Intel Capital to invest in technology startups with the hope that the partnership can offer unique fan experiences. The league doubled-down on new business ventures earlier this year when they announced plans to launch a professional gaming league with Take Two Interactive, called the NBA 2K eSports League. Both announcements signal that the NBA is here to produce a premium product on the court while striving to make a major impact on the global sports and technology landscape.

The new Emerging Technology Initiative will be tasked with identifying investment opportunities that could produce noteworthy experiences for fans tuning in by way of digital media, in the arena or around the world. Funding start-ups that combine sports and technology in ways that have never been explored aligns with the forward thinking movement the league has showcased over the years. Intel has been known for its work alongside startups and the NBA has had success integrating new ways to make the game a global experience with various events such as its Jr. NBA World Championship, a global youth basketball tournament featuring the top boys and girls teams ages 14 and under from around the world. But, in order for this unique partnership to succeed, there will be a collaborative effort from both parties. According to Jeff Marsilio, Senior Vice President for New Media Distribution, “executives from different areas of our business will work with Intel Capital executives to evaluate those opportunities, drawing on the deep experience Intel Capital has in working with startups.” For a league that is extremely focused on extending its reach to global markets, this is a win-win situation. While every NBA fan doesn’t have the chance to see his or her favorite player step on the hardwood, both the NBA and Intel hope to explore avenues that make the game an unforgettable experience.

While this partnership is still in the infancy stage, there are already signs of its success. This year the NBA, along with Turner Sports and Intel, announced that seven regular season games and at least 12 more playoff games would be available in Virtual Reality. Hall of Famer and current TNT color commentator Reggie Miller wore a Virtual Reality headset, Oculus Go, courtside for the first round matchup between the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs. While the idea of watching a game through a headset instead of on live television or in the arena might not be currently accepted by everyone, the opportunity to see the physical device provided many a chance to envision what the fan experience would be like via virtual reality. According to brief reviews, Ben Golliver of SI.com pointed out that the headset is like watching “video game characters” play at a speed “faster than a typical NBA game.”

This multi-year partnership further exhibits why the NBA is one of the most forward thinking professional leagues. With the ultimate goal of producing an incomparable product for its fans, the NBA will surely have other leagues taking notes on how recent moves not only affect the bottom line but also how it impacts consumer engagement on a global scale.

Bryce Tarrant is a sports media & culture enthusiast. As a sports marketing professional he enjoys the conversation around major events, sneakers and the art of debate.

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