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NBA leverages Microsoft partnership to virtually bring fans courtside in Orlando

The National Basketball Association has unveiled a series of in-venue and broadcast initiatives for the resumption of the 2019-20 season in Orlando, Florida, which are designed to enhance the experience of fans watching from home.

Most notably, the NBA is leveraging new partnerships with Microsoft and Michelob Ultra to enable more than 300 fans to appear each game on “Michelob Ultra Courtside” 17-foot video boards surrounding the court.

Utilizing Microsoft Teams’ new Together Mode, the participating fans will feel like they are sitting next to one another at the games and be able to interact with each other. Meanwhile, players will be able to see and hear their reactions in real time.

The Together Mode will seek to create a unique virtual experience by removing fans from their individual backgrounds and bringing them together in a shared visual space that will be seen through the broadcast and in the venue.

It is a similar initiative to what will be used by Fox Sports in its Major League Baseball broadcasts, though the network is using virtual fans rather than real fans virtually.

The NBA’s domestic broadcast partners ESPN and Turner Sports will reposition more than 30 cameras, including many in robotic form, closer to the court and showcase never-before-seen camera angles. Microphones around the court will also capture enhanced sounds from the floor, including sneaker squeaks and ball bounces.

DJs and announcers will be in-venue to help replicate the sounds and experiences teams are accustomed to in-arena.

Additionally, fans will be able to digitally cheer for their team through the NBA App and NBA.com and on Twitter using team hashtags throughout the game. Those virtual cheers will be featured on the video boards with graphics and animation that capture the level of fan engagement around the world. Fans will also be able to see their videos featured through TikTok Challenges.

NBA Digital, which is jointly managed by the NBA and Turner Sports, will provide customized viewing options on NBA League Pass and NBA TV via the NBA App and NBA.com. Fans will also have access to alternate feeds with new camera angles, enhanced graphics, gaming options, in-language and influencers calling the game with a focus on areas such as analytics, fashion and music. Fans additionally will be able to play live NBA Pick’Em: Trivia for every NBA game.

“Working with our broadcast and technology partners, we are excited to unveil a series of enhancements that will bring fans closer to the game and allow them to personalize their viewing experience,” said Sara Zuckert, the NBA’s head of next gen telecast. “Our goal is to create an enjoyable and immersive experience where fans can engage with each other and maintain a sense of community as we restart the season under these unique and challenging circumstances.”

The NBA is scheduled to restart its 2019-20 season on July 30 with a high-profile showdown between crosstown rivals the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers.

Games will be held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando, with 22 of the 30 NBA teams participating in a quarantined tournament in the wake of the global Covid-19 pandemic.

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