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MKTG Enters the NBA’s VR World

MKTG Enters the NBA’s VR World

5 minute read

  • This season, the NBA began broadcasting one game a week in virtual reality (VR), giving fans a brand new way to experience the game
  • The introduction of a weekly VR broadcast has a number of marketing implications, from fan exposure to new on-air talent to added reach for certain in-arena sponsorship assets
  • Today, VR primarily appeals to early adopters, however, it will be important for marketers to keep a close eye on the platform and monitor its potential for brand integration

Virtual Reality (VR) has quickly become one of the top technology trends leveraged by both brands and properties to create immersive, consumer experiences. The NBA, who has consistently been a league that is on the cutting edge of new technology (hosting an annual All-Star Tech Summit), has reinforced this brand position through its VR offering.

At the start of 2016-2017 NBA season, the league committed to broadcasting one game per week in VR. Initially, the initiative was only available to US viewers, but it has recently made its debut in Canada. This provided MKTG with the opportunity to test out the new technology first-hand.

“Delivering weekly live games in virtual reality in partnership with Samsung and NextVR is part of our continued commitment to bringing the NBA experience to Canadian fans,” said NBA Canada Vice President and Managing Director Dan MacKenzie. “There’s nothing like a courtside seat at an NBA game, and now fans across Canada can experience the excitement of sitting courtside anywhere, anytime.”

MKTG's Key Takeaways:


NBA VR Powered by Samsung provides added exposure for in-arena assets

During the VR broadcast, the in-game feed rotates between three camera angles; a courtside view and two under the basket angles. These new angles provide camera visibility for signage that would otherwise not receive prominent placement on a traditional broadcast. For example, on the courtside view, there is a prominent view of signage under the video board, which would only be visible from people in-arena and viewing on VR. This also occurs for the under the basket views, as there is branding on the net that is captured prominently on VR. Currently in-arena branding that is further away from the VR cameras (ie: LED signage) are indiscernible due to picture quality. As the technology improves, more in-arena inventory will become visible to the viewer.



A tech-savvy broadcast with fresh on-air talent

The current broadcaster of the NBA in VR is Next VR (a leader in this space who has partnerships with CNN, HBO, and Fox and others to capture VR content). Next VR broadcasts include pregame commentary from multiple on-air hosts including Mark Rogondino and analysis by former player Bruce Bowen. With the broadcast being dedicated to VR, the commentary is able to emphasize the strengths of the medium, providing viewers with things to look for in the upcoming game that could be easier to view from a VR perspective. This VR broadcast also gives exposure to new on-air talent. Rogondino and Bowen are given a new audience to demonstrate their on-air talents, expanding their reach to new markets. The audience is also likely to be younger and tech-savvy, which could lead to a greater ability to experiment with new initiatives on the broadcast.


Greater accessibility, longer viewing times are keys to higher adoption rates

Viewership rates for live NBA VR broadcasts are fairly low in current state and, according to the NBA, the average viewing time in a league Next VR broadcast is 22 minutes. For VR broadcasts to see viewership rise, a number of shifts are likely required. First, as the price of VR headsets becomes more affordable over time (Currently priced over $100), and the headsets become smaller and more mobile, the technology will likely become further into the mainstream. Additionally, there are opportunities to improve picture quality in VR. While VR offers a uniquely immersive experience, the picture quality does not yet match an HD or 4K broadcast; a key competitor for the medium


VR is a deeply personal but at times “anti-social” viewing experience

The VR viewing experience is in many ways a departure from what makes other sports viewing experiences “sticky”. It is less of a social and communal affair and much more of a deeply personal viewing experience. Many VR products have begun introducing social integration (ie: seeing avatars of your friends in the same real-life setting). The ability to transition this experience into one that is experienced as a group (through online communities like a chat function) can create opportunities for both properties and sponsors to make the experience more engaging and authentic to what so many fans value about the sports viewing experience. 


Custom marketing opportunities will be available to advertisers

The NBA is exploring opportunities to launch VR-specific brand integration. Currently, the NBA Canada has secured Samsung as a presenting partner of VR in Canada which has provided Samsung with custom branded VR assets. While viewers are watching an NBA broadcast in a VR headset, they can see a Samsung branded scoreboard when they turn around 180-degress and look “behind them”. Moving forward, the league will explore running custom video ads during breaks in play, wherein a virtual jumbotron will enter the viewer’s vantage point. As net-new inventory is launched, more NBA sponsors will have an opportunity to be present on VR and leverage their investment as a way to reach tech-savvy consumers.

NBA VR Powered by Samsung broadcast provides a brand new platform for not only fans to enjoy the NBA, but also for brands to look for future sponsorship integration. As the technology evolves, it will be important for marketers to continually monitor VR, ensuring they are able to fully leverage the technology.

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