NBA chief sees potential in AR, VR

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has suggested that the use of augmented and virtual reality will be the next method for the North American basketball league to enhance fan engagement, both in the arena and at home.

Silver discussed the potential for AR and VR on CBS SportsWe Need to Talk show. A number of NBA teams have been experimenting with the technology and the Sacramento Kings claimed a first at the weekend through a venture with US telco Verizon.

A group of local students were invited to the Golden 1 Center arena on Saturday to watch the Kings face the Los Angeles Lakers and experience the game as if they were courtside, thanks to AR/VR and Verizon 5G technology.

The event marked the first time a US professional sports team used 5G to deliver a live, in-game 360 virtual reality experience to fans. A courtside camera set up at the scorer’s table captured the game and streamed it live over Verizon’s 5G technology to the AR/VR goggles worn by the students in the arena’s esports lounge.

Silver said: “If you’re at a game, even in person, you may be holding up your iPhone and you may be getting additional information live. You hold it up and you see the players and be getting their stats and may see… Steph Curry at that spot on the floor shoots 42 per cent as opposed to 37 per cent so he’s better off shooting there. Or LeBron (James) is deciding who on his team he should pass to, and you can instantly see how they do from the corner three as opposed to the post or whatever else.

“But I think for me…even people who aren’t huge basketball fans recognise that the courtside seat at an NBA, WNBA game, great college game, is one of the best seats in all of sports. Even if you’re a hardcore football fan or whatever. What we set out to do is we said, ‘all right, first of all, only about one per cent of our fans globally ever get to go to a game in person. And then take the tiny per cent, the Jack Nicholsons of the world, who actually sit in those seats, courtside. And then the challenge became, how can we replicate that experience?

“Taking advantage of a strong team in the Bay Area in the Warriors, and tremendous interest from the tech community in the NBA. We went to those technology leaders and said ‘OK, here’s the challenge. How do we replicate the courtside experience?’ And through virtual reality, augmented reality, all kinds of other immersive experiences in media, we’re getting closer.”