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NBA to bring fans “courtside” in 2020 season relaunch

With the 2020 season relaunch set for Thursday, the NBA has unveiled more details as how it will enhance the fan experience despite playing games without fans at ESPN Wide World of Sports.

We first covered the NBA efforts to update fan experiences last month, noting that virtual grandstands would be part of the effort. We now have additional information about what the league has planned. It is, arguably, the most advanced effort to bring fans as close to a game experience as possible without allowing them into the arena. No cardboard cutouts here: we’re talking real fans interacting in real time.

Because fans won’t be allowed into the three venues at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex for the 2020 season relaunch, the NBA and sponsor Michelob Ultra are installing 17-foot videoboards surrounding the court, more than 300 NBA fans each game will be invited to appear live. Powered by Microsoft Teams, the plan is to present a virtual experience by removing fans from their individual backgrounds and bringing them together in a shared visual space that will be seen through the broadcast and in the venue. Microsoft and the NBA says the experience will provide the feeling of sitting next to one another at a live game without leaving the comfort and safety of their homes. In addition, Microsoft’s Together mode uses AI segmentation technology to bring people together into a shared background like a conference room, coffee shop, or arena. For these lucky fans, they’ll be presenting an experience that includes both a live feed of the game and views of their fellow fans.

Players will also be able to view the real-time reaction of their virtual fans.

For those watching from home, NBA and partner Turner Sports say they’ll present an upgraded experience, installing more than 30 cameras, including many in robotic form and closer to the court. Microphones around the court will capture enhanced sounds from the floor, including sneaker squeaks and ball bounces. DJs and announcers will be in-venue to help replicate the sounds and experiences teams are accustomed to in-arena. In addition, fans will have customized viewing options on NBA League Pass and NBA TV via the NBA App and, includingalternate feeds with new camera angles, enhanced graphics, gaming options, in-language and influencers calling the game with a focus on areas such as analytics, fashion and music. Fans will also have access to live NBA Pick’Em: Trivia for every NBA game.

Finally, fans can virtually cheer cheer for their team through the NBA App and and on Twitter using team hashtags throughout the game.  Virtual cheering will be reflected on the videoboards in-venue with graphics and animations that capture the level of fan engagement around the world. Fans will also have the opportunity to see their videos featured through TikTok Challenges. Snapchat’s “ground segmentation” augmented reality technology will also give fans an opportunity to explore a virtual rendering of the official court in Orlando via a Lens wherever they are.

RELATED STORIES: NBA virtual grandstand, lots of tech planned for season resumption

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