We live in incredibly challenging times right now. The world collectively is having a moment of change. We are being thrust into a digital future where a large amount of people are being forced to work from home and companies are finding that they can still be efficient with this model of workflow. In addition to this, Best Buy and other retailers have seen remote desktop setup tools be completely sold out in response to a post COVID-19 world. On a personal note for me, the state of things has also taken away something that has been hard for me to handle: the suspension and cancelation of sports leagues.
This has been a necessary action with the widespread understanding that social distancing is essential in quelling the spread of this virus. But as the days turn into weeks and the weeks turn into months, there is a lot of pressure for leagues like the NBA to resume playing in a somewhat limited capacity. Many ideas have been suggested to solve this situation. As of right now, the prevailing theory is that the league will host games in Las Vegas once the league is confirmed to be virus free the games will be played with no fans. This has been widely criticized by current stars like LeBron James and former greats like Charles Barkley.
The argument by these players is that in basketball especially, there is an energy that comes from the fans. The cheers and boos have a subliminal effect on the players that brings out the best and worst of their abilities. In many ways, basketball is a sport of artistry that contradicts the linear mathematics of American football and the geometrical algebra of baseball. Especially in the NBA game, there is an emphasis on creation and being able to showcase ability that was not thought possible by the viewer. The athletes in the NBA are physical marvels and we are their collective muses that inspire them. So here we have an ultimate dilemma. There is an appetite for the game, but crowds of people are discouraged, and the athletes feel the need for people in the stands to energize them. So what is the solution to salvage an NBA season? Perhaps it is time to explore the avenue of a more tech involved solution for the NBA.
The Live Stadium Effect Solution
If there has been a silver lining to all of the chaos around COVID-19, it is that the resourcefulness of the human race cannot be denied. Many companies have transitioned to a work from home model that has leveraged the use of various video conferencing technologies from companies like Zoom, Microsoft, and Google. These companies have also provided excellent chat platforms to keep teams and companies connected to one another in a time of self isolation. What if it was possible to leverage this capability into the arena for NBA games?
Here is the idea. Collectively the NBA teams supply up to 5,000 tablet devices that will be installed in every seat of an arena. This is about 166 devices per team. Once all of these devices are purchased, they will be installed on each of the seats in an arena where the games will be played. From here, the NBA can market this as a live in game feature with special access during games. Features such as a live listen in to huddles during time outs could be rolled out to make this more appealing. The NBA could charge a small upcharge to get fans to do this, and pricing will vary based on the proximity to the court much like how it is when attending a game live.
By leveraging a video call platform, this allows the fan to be a part of the in game experience even when they cannot physically attend the game. Audio from the tablet can help to simulate the crowd noise to motivate the players. As many tablets on the market these days have better audio quality, this would not be too much of a drop off and would still create an ambience conducive to showmanship that players can feel to make the game special for the fans in the digital stands and watching at TV.
Utilizing this platform would allow for a band aid fix for the time being, but will allow for games to be played that still generates additional revenue for the league, satisfies the players, but most importantly gives the collective population a little bit of a morale boost by having a sport return. This could be a step to get the public’s mind away from the doom and gloom of watching news reports on TV or articles that are shared on Facebook. In the long term, this will help the NBA’s appeal to its audience and potentially pave the way to a more digital enhanced future once life returns to a semblance of normal.
The Digital Future Path
The NBA has a reputation of being the league that makes the steps to be a trailblazer. In many respects, they are the beta tester of sports leagues. This is partly due to the leagues younger demographic as compared to Major League Baseball and the NFL. The league was really the first to embrace social media and has built its brand by empowering its stars, something that baseball has really struggled with by comparison. As such, it is only right that it is this league that will be in the position to drive forward the next step of innovation in live sports as a result of the current situation.
And while some may view the radical solution of digitizing the live game experience, this can also help to enhance it. What if after fans are allowed to congregate in stadiums after the threat of the virus has passed, this digital model can be utilized for some added integration in the live game experience? The way that I see it, there are two benefits of fine tuning this after original implementation: avoiding blackouts and enhancing the in game experience.
The first benefit would be as a potential solution to the empty seats in the stands conundrum that all sports have had to grapple with in the age of 4K televisions. If there are some empty seats for a game why not offer a small upcharge to have the live experience if you are not in the arena? This would allow for the fans of the team to still get hands-on content features such as interviews with players, insight into huddles, and live fan reaction to plays that happen during the course of the game. By offering this fans that are unable to make the game due to scheduling or financial purposes, this allows NBA teams in smaller markets to have a better chance of gaining some level of profitability during games.
As mentioned earlier, the in game fan experience can be enhanced as well. By offering these types of features to fans that are also present in the arena, the NBA can be at the forefront of a digital sports revolution. By allowing live reactions, enhanced stats on their mobile devices, and the live look-ins to what is happening courtside the fan feels much more a part of the game which will allow for greater fan participation. The second phase of this is the NBA cultivating this as a potential social platform for the greater basketball experience. The way for fans from different markets to interact with one another to create a larger network tied around basketball.
The NBA has been put into a rough position here. A pandemic occurred right in the middle of a season that had so much intrigue and the playoffs were set to be the most anticipated in many years. The league did the right thing by being the first to suspend their season and was at the forefront of their players and personnel being tested (despite the wealth inequality argument that that brings). It is only right that the league is at the cutting edge of revitalizing the way that live sports are consumed.
The world has found itself in a state of chaos and mental anxiety over the past few weeks. The appetite for something to take minds off of the doom and gloom that is the current pandemic. At its core, sports is designed to be an escape. A form of entertainment that captivates millions who marvel at athletic ability and unscripted drama. Technology at its core, is designed to make life more accessible to the masses and to make our lives enhanced in one way or another. Many times the two have converged, but no time is it more important than the present. We as a collective society need a mental break, and the NBA is in a position to deliver it.