Adding NBA virtual fans was a brilliant move when the prior season ended with a bubble in Disney World, but there are no plans for a similar setup for the 2020-2021 season launching Tuesday.
You recall the NBA virtual fans set up at the ESPN Wide World of Sports NBA venues: the bank of video screens showing networked viewers responding in real time to the action on the court. At a time when we were all in deep lockdown, the video screens and virtual fans lent some sorely needed life to a setup with all the excitement of a preseason scrimmage.
With the regular season set to start Dec. 22 when the Golden State Warriors visit the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center, there will be no virtual fans present. With some teams set to welcome fans and others prevented by local officials from doing so, there will be a range of arena setups. The long-term plan is to welcome fans to all NBA arenas, according to league officials:
“What we’re more focused on is having the fans back and being present and creating opportunities for flexibility,” Sara Zuckert, the NBA’s head of next-generation telecasts, told USA TODAY Sports. “So it’ll vary city to city. But those LED boards are certainly not conducive in many ways to have fans present. So you will see some variation from team-to-team based on different capabilities in different markets.”…
“We were looking at different opportunities and different markets that had flexibility for when fans do return,” Zuckert said. “It was more of what that would look like in a way that could adapt to the team’s needs between now and next summer. That was the primary consideration. But as it relates to virtual fans, we’ve certainly heard how popular it was. We’re so thrilled at that, and we’re looking at new ways for future development that could allow fans to watch together even if they’re not necessarily visible on the telecast.”
We will need to see what those opportunities are, of course, but with all the high-def video capabilities now built into many arenas, you still could some sort of virtual fans present–just not like they were showcased in Disney.
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