Jun 6, 2019

NBA Finals debut new tech experiments to keep fans engaged

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) taps Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam (43) as he goes to the basket on June 5, 2019. Photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Thanks to the success of the Golden State Warriors, I've been able to attend the NBA Finals the past several years to check out the latest and greatest tech trend or gimmick.

Background: Over the years I've seen everything from 360-degree replays to Facebook Messenger bots. Virtual reality has been a frequent area of interest, but it was less so this year. (There's no live broadcast, but NextVR is doing next-day highlights.)

What's new: Instead, most of the league's tech experiments were focused on online and social media.

  • NBA League Pass: For the international version of its subscription service, the NBA is offering several alternate feeds for the finals. Using data from basketball tech firm Second Spectrum, viewers can get enhanced stats for players, see the Xs and Os in coach view, or get the mascot version with augmented reality digital cheers.
    • The downside is that those feeds are all delayed 2.5 minutes or so, but the company and league are trying to get it as close to real-time as possible.
  • Google Lens: Using the Google app and pointing the camera at a Warriors, Raptors or NBA Finals logo will pull up information about the league.
  • Snapchat: The Snapchat augmented reality experiment is limited to a single banner at each stadium which, when in view of the app's camera, transforms into a highlight reel of the hometown team.

Between the lines: These are all admittedly experiments to see what sticks, NBA VP of emerging technologies Scott Stanchak tells Axios. The goal is to keep fans engaged and not moving on to the next app or notification.

  • "Fans have so many choices," Stanchak said. "Not just from basketball perspective, but also from an entertainment perspective."

Meanwhile, Twitter tried its own experiment, inviting several of its most prolific local hoops commenters to watch the game from a suite and tweettheir thoughts with the hashtag #NBATwitter.

  • Along with Axios Sports editor Kendall Baker, I had the chance to witness the passion, enthusiasm (and eventual disappointment) of the half dozen or so influencers, as well as a number of Twitter employees who saw their hometown team go down to a 123-109 defeat.
  • Check out Kendall's coverage in Axios Sports (and sign up too).

Tech execs were well represented as well. I bumped into Salesforce founder Marc Benioff courtside before the game, while also said to be in attendance were Rakuten CEO Hiroshi “Mickey” Mikitani, Hewlett Packard Enterprise President Keerti Melkote and Uber CMO Rebecca Messina.

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