The COVID-19 pandemic forced most industries to completely rethink their priorities and rapidly accelerate their digital transformation plans, cramming several years’ worth of change into a span of weeks or months. The sports industry was no exception: thanks to a year of closed stadiums, athletic organizations had to turn their digital transformation dials to MAX and discover new ways to bring the sport to its fans. As a result, the NBA has taken on a wide range of innovations to enhance the fan experience, expand possibilities for sponsors, and advanced the NBA’s strategic goals.
With in-person events having been a no-go for a long period, the NBA took an omnichannel approach with its “That’s Game” brand campaign, customizing digital content, interactive social, and even an influencer house to better connect with fans wherever they are. Our efforts have resulted in several unique experiences for fans: tapping into our partnership with Microsoft, NBA CourtOptix Powered by Microsoft Azure leverages AI and cloud computing to track and analyze the on court action and turn it into insightful video on player’s stats and performance. Similarly, we recently announced a new long-term partnership with Sportradar starting with the 2023-24 season, which will focus on the development of new data products to enrich fan engagement and revolutionizing how sports betting data is utilized by betting operators and media partners. All of this ties into our larger goals for our personalized streaming service, which will offer NBA broadcasts tailored to specific users.
Another big avenue that we’ve been expanding into is VR: while virtual events might have been a rarity pre-pandemic, they have become increasingly mainstream over the past two years, especially now with the hype surrounding the Metaverse on the rise. For instance, the launch of the 2021-22 regular season will welcome Quest users back to Horizons Venues (formerly just Venues), allowing people watch games courtside with friends while getting exclusive play-by-play commentary.
On top of all of this, the league has also been steadily growing interest in NBA Top Shot, its first-ever initiative focused on digital collectibles and NFTs. It’s a trend that’s been building up for some time now: The Utah Jazz helped to kickstart it by becoming the first pro sports team to offer an NFT program, which allowed fans to gain access to a VR locker room tour, along with a virtual meet and greet with Dwyane Wade. Not only does it serve as a unique collectible, but it offers die hard fans a unique experience that allows them to get closer to their favorite team.
This served as a starting point for the NBA’s wider adoption of NFTs: recently the NBA collaborated with Dapper labs to sell highlight clips as NFTs, while back in June we saw the Philadelphia 76ers launch a partnership with Socios.com, the leading global blockchain provider for the sports and entertainment industry. Meanwhile, the Brooklyn Nets are looking into both the purchase of NFTs and issuance of a type of crypto currency called “fan tokens,” along with several other digital innovations.
As part of the league expansion efforts, one of the regions where the NBA is becoming more popular is Latin America. In Brazil, NBA LATAM partnered with Brazilian streamer Alexandre “Gaules” Borba Chiqueta and Budweiser to offer more new content on his Twitch channel. The NBA has never broadcasted official matches on Twitch before, not even in English, which makes Gaules’ a bigger deal, specially among the younger fans who would chose streaming services over traditional broadcast.
While it’s hard to say what the future holds for the NBA, one thing is certain: we’ll continue our dedication to digital innovation in order to provide the best quality fan experiences and deliver unique opportunities for our sponsors.
The author Pepe Escamilla is Vice President & Head of Business Development NBA LatAm