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NBA announces plans for virtual fans using Microsoft Teams

The National Basketball Association (NBA) has announced its broadcasting plans upon the resumption of the competition at the end of the month in Orlando, by aiming to have fans appear virtually inside the arena.

With the Covid-19 crisis restricting fans from being able to attend games, 320 fans for each fixture will be featured on video boards around the court via Mircrosoft’s ‘Together Mode’, which will allow fans to not only watch but interact with each other.

The backgrounds of the supporters will be replaced by a shared space that will be viewed both through the broadcast as well as the venue itself.

The NBA and Microsoft only recently partnered with each other when they developed a next-generation direct-to-consumer (DTC) streaming platform in April but will collaborate once again to create an immersive experience for fans and provide the best opportunity to enjoy the games in these unprecedented times.

Alongside its partnership with Microsoft, the NBA has joined up with its broadcast partners ESPN and Turner Sports to showcase games in a way that has never been seen before by having over 30 cameras (off-court, rim and rail cameras) that will be relocated closer to the court, that will offer new camera angles that would not have been available to fans watching from inside the arena.

With regards to sound, the announcers and DJs will be allowed inside the venue to reproduce the same sounds that the teams have become acquainted with and microphones will be placed around the court to capture sounds from the floor.

Viewers will be given the chance to impact the visual effects of the venue by cheering for their team virtually. The NBA App, and Twitter team hashtags will be the new form of cheering for fans at present. The virtual cheers will be shown through the video boards and include graphics and animations.

Likewise, social media will be important in how the NBA plan on creating the best experience for its fans by giving them the opportunity to feature on TikTok and use a virtual rendering of the court by way of Snapchat’s augmented reality technology.

There will also be customised viewing options for fans on NBA League Pass and NBA TV, which is being provided by NBA Digital.

The NBA’s head of next gen telecast, Sara Zuckert said: “What we've been focused on is creating the most genuine experience possible for our fans watching at home but also for our players in the arena.”

“We wanted to create something that felt real and gave fans the opportunity to be present and to also interact digitally with our digital cheering function without crossing that line into something that seems over the top.”

Jared Spataro, corporate vice president, Microsoft 365, added: “The core of our partnership with the NBA is delivering next-gen experiences for their fans on and off the court.

“All of us at Microsoft can't wait to watch an NBA game again and are excited to be part of the new fan experience. We hope Together mode helps fans feel more connected and immersed in the game, and helps teams feel the energy of their fans, even when they can't be in the arena.”

Author: Jake Wilkin