With the 2020 season resumption schedule out and teams prepping to report to Orlando, league officials are planning how fans will follow the action—with a high dose of tech and an NBA virtual grandstand along the way.
With the remainder of the 2019-2020 season now set as a studio production, tech will be even more important on game broadcasts, past the usual flashy graphics and slow-mo replays. The NBA is looking at tech initiatives to make fans part of the action in ways that will as close as possible to an in-game experience. With all games set to be played sans fans at the three arena venues at Disney World’s ESPN Wide World of Sports, the tech is seen as a bridge between a dry game and a more interactive experience.
What’s being planned: a “virtual grandstand” designed to bring fans closer to the game, per CNBC:
Behind the scenes, the NBA scanned abroad for ideas on ways to engage its fans, looking as far as Denmark’s Aarhus Gymnastikforening (AGF), where the soccer league invited 10,000 fans to watch via a Zoom video broadcast. Fans signed up for tickets and were paired on Zoom calls that featured other fans in sections they would normally sit with during games. NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum, who oversees the league’s business affairs, hinted at ideas like AGF’s, which is being called the world’s “first virtual grandstand.”
“We’re going to use this as an opportunity to bring our fans closer to the game,” Tatum said. “And so, what you’ll see in the arena are opportunities for fans to interact, to be seen in the arena, and to have hundreds of fans be able to appear on the video boards surrounding the court.”
Craig Howe, CEO and Founder of Rebel Ventures, advised the NBA on ways to develop its content in Orlando. He said the league is attempting “to gather as much insight as possible to give their teams an idea of what content they will be able to create, so they can start thinking about overcoming the challenges.”
One interesting angle: the game broadcasts will not even pretend to mimic an arena experience. Leagues across the board are looking to replace seating with tarps promoting teams and sponsors. The NFL is looking at tarping over the first rows in the stadium closest to players and coaches in order to implement social distancing. And in venues where no fans are allowed—as was the case this past weekend with the launch of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) tournament play in Utah—huge tarps covered grandstand seating, replete with team logos and sponsor logos.
So it will be fascinating to see what happens when the season starts with seeding games on July 30. The 22 teams participating in the season restart will play eight seeding games apiece, with 52 of the 88 games set for broadcast on TNT, ESPN, ABC and NBA TV. During the season restart, there will be a maximum of seven seeding games per day across three venues at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex: wall-to-wall buckets.