Within Sports, broadcasting has been the ultimate tool for success throughout the pandemic. Many competitions have come back to finish their seasons and broadcast games. The Champions League concluded with a tournament in isolation and currently the NBA playoffs are running in a bubble. Both events have been successful. Leagues understood the value of competing in a time where spectators are spending more time at home. Sports broadcasting technology has boosted the quality of spectators viewing experiences.
Towards the beginning of the pandemic many leagues completely shut down. Owing to this, e sports saw a rise in viewership particularly with games that have existing traditional leagues. A young Formula 1 driver named Lando Norris popularity took off when he streamed himself playing a racing simulator. By getting friends involved he raised over $2.7 million for charities. The power in this moment was that without outward support from the racing federation he kept fans engaged in the sport. He did this from his living room and with a few buddies; the internet has allowed athletes to use their brand to make an impact they own.
Because of e sports are tech native, they had a head start at the beginning of the pandemic. Traditional leagues adapted and found ways to incorporate their brands into online gaming. However, within a few months traditional leagues were back up and running. Notably, by implementing rigorous testing protocols, and asking players to isolate into “bubbles.” Bubbles are self contained environments teams live in to prevent the spread of the virus. They include testing and isolation protocols that protect the athletes from spreading the virus.
Currently the NBA playoffs are running in a bubble environment at Disney’s Wide World of Sports. To save the 2019-2020 season the NBA spent over $170 million on creating the protocols & environment to finish their season. As a result there are no fans; only some family, essential workers, team staff, and players. Initially, this created some pretty bad basketball, with athletes likening it to practice games. However, now the quality of the games has improved and made for some exciting match-ups. The NBA bubble has had to adapt to outstanding circumstances, and has used them to its advantage. While not on the software side, the bubble environments were an important piece of sports broadcast technology. In particular they put all the games in one place and created marketing beast. While the UEFA Champions League quietly changed the format of the tournament to a single elimination tournament; the NBA sold “The Bubble” as a once in a lifetime event. This has created some of the most watched basketball games in the last decade. The Rockets-Lakers Game 2 had over 7 million viewers, a record for an NBA conference semi-final.
Los Angeles Clippers
Steve Ballmer, the former CEO of Microsoft owns the Los Angeles Clippers. Over the last season they’ve transitioned from becoming to Lakers little brother to challenging for a title. Ballmer has turned the Clippers into one of the most forward thinking teams in the NBA. They’ve built a new stadium and are changing the streaming experience. This only makes sense as Ballmer grew Microsoft to one of the world’s most important companies.
Before the bubble the Clippers spent examined how they could increase the value to fans watching through their mobile app. The front office saw an opportunity to create a more immersive watching experience. They partnered with a company called Second Spectrum to launch Clippers CourtVision; an Artificial Intelligence tool that could do real time overlays on game feeds. This allows the Clippers to incorporate graphics, statistics and even targeted ads to their viewers. In its current format you can watch the game in coach mode, player mode and mascot mode. Each mode presents the game in a new way; with tactics, statistics or graphical overlays. These add an interesting layer to watching streams, I find them to be a bit distracting but the idea is fascinating.
Coupled with some creative thinking this type of software could be the first step to creating customized fan experiences. This could allow native advertising on free streams to be possible. This would make the experience better for everyone; viewers advertisers and the league itself. Experiments like this one make a strong case for sports broadcasting technology.
Many industries have used the pandemic to transform, but none as much as the sports industry. Entertainment, in particular the film industry have struggled to make up for the losses in in person attendance. Top sports, in particular the NBA, have thrived found creative ways to grow. How fans watch games will inevitably change in the coming decades. This will come in two forms; gambling and sports broadcast technology. Both will improve fan involvement and accessibility to sports. As entertainment and tech become more intertwined, sports will become a more immersive experience. As any athlete can tell you playing a game looks very different from watching one. We are reaching a point in time where we will be able to watch a game from an athletes perspective. Until then we are stuck with the birds eye view. I’m bullish on the growth of sports partially because of sports broadcasting technology. To me nothing would be better than an immersive view into how games are played.