THE National Basketball Association’s (NBA) bubble season has been on for about a month already and one of the leading stories to come out of the restarted season is, no, not the Phoenix Suns’ 5-0 (won-lost) record care of Devin Booker’s dagger against the Los Angeles Clippers, but the league rearing its creative head, so to speak.
Watching the replay, the shot was well contested by Paul George. You could hear the Suns’ fans’ “virtual” eruption as the shot hit nothing but nylon.
What did the league do to, sort of, bring the fans back, at least virtually despite the challenges posed by the outbreak? According to nba.com, “Invite fans to watch the game, in real time, through livestream and show their reactions inside the Disney arenas.”
NBA.com states, “The league collaborated with Microsoft on the technology, and partnered with Michelob Ultra to promote and roust the demand, although as the playoffs approach, getting fans into their virtual seats will be the least of the NBA’s worries on this restart.
Not only are the fans shown inside the arenas, but the national networks often cut away from the game to reveal who and what’s on the video screens, which extend along each baseline and the sideline behind the team benches.
The fans are selected multiple ways. They register on ultracourtside.com through Michelob and are also selected by each of the 22 participating teams, who favor their most loyal followers and also families of the players. It’s a digital stay-at-home meeting, the only difference is basketball’s version is a lot more exciting than your office’s.
“With the unfortunate situation involving the pandemic that we’re in, we began to focus how to bring our fans closer to the game in different kinds of ways,” said Sara Zuckert, the league’s head of next generation telecasts. “We’re in such a different scenario now, with the way everyone is consuming media and watching sports. We knew this would be something different. I don’t think we could’ve predicted the response. I’m just thrilled to see how popular it is.”
Even animals get to take in the action, “Also, with increasing frequency, seats are occupied by…pets. In that sense, the game has truly gone to the dogs; creative fans even share their seats with stuffed animals.”
Over in Europe, you have Danish football collaborating with Zoom to bring virtuality or “virtualness” to its fans, as per BBC.com/football, “At their home game against Randers, AGF will install a giant screen along the side of the pitch, creating what they call “the world’s first virtual grandstand” so fans can support the team for free via Zoom—there will even be a section for away fans.
“It’s about creating an atmosphere around the game so that the players will see that they have the support from the city even though there are no supporters in the stands,” the project’s coordinator, Soren Carlsen, told BBC World Service’s Mani Djazmi.
How do both leagues monitor fans’ “virtual” behavior at the games? NBA.com says, “The lords of the project do police the audience to make sure the visuals and behavior are up to professional standards, and anyway, the NBA hasn’t had issues. Folks are keeping it clean.”
In Danish football, according to Danish football, “Any abusive language will result in expulsion from the meeting by a moderator.”
“The same rule goes for Zoom as it does at the stadium,” added Carlsen. “We will have some digital stewards and they will be monitoring it, just like the social-media platforms at the club. So they can make sure that you don’t see anything that you’re not supposed to see, and you don’t hear any profanities.”
A most creative way to get the fans and supporters engaged and to satisfy their hunger for sports.