The National Basketball League wants to try to give every fan a court side seat — even if it has to do so virtually.
In an early effort to bring virtual reality to major-league sports play, the NBA said it would team up with Time Warner’s Turner Sports and Intel to make live NBA games available in VR to subscribers of Turner’s TV networks. Cameras and technology that make VR delivery possible can be used at all games, but technology that allows for 36–degree replays will initially be set up at the American Airlines Center in Dallas and Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. The team has plans to expand installations over the course of the partnership.
“We often think about all those people who may not live in the direct vicinity of an arena who may want to have the experience of knowing what it’s like to be court side at the game,” said Jeff Marsilio, vice president of global distribution at the NBA, in an interview. “It is complementary. It is more immersive.” The NBA, he says, still sees TV broadcasts as the main way fans will tune in games.
Turner will start to deliver live virtual-reality content starting with the 2018 NBA All-Star Weekend.
Intel will set up a coterie of special lenses and cameras at arenas, said James Carwana, vice president and general manager of Intel Sports. Fans who are subscribers can call up a virtual reality game experience through a forthcoming NBA on TNT VR app on Samsung;’s GearVR and Google Daydream headsets that can be downloaded from Oculus and Google Play stores. The technology “allows us to transport you to the sideline,” he said, “and then you can go from the best seat in the house and move closer to the court.”
Intel’s technology will also let fans freeze a moment of game action and view it from the player’s point of view, and can be incorporated into game broadcasts allowing commentators to pause key moments in the game and view the action in 3D from any angle.
The trio has been planning the offering for several months, said Will Funk, executive vice president of property marketing and corporate partnerships for Turner Sports.
Launch of the virtual-reality sports offering comes as many media companies and advertisers are working to harness the potential opportunities of the nascent medium. Discovery Communications in 2016 unveiled its desire to sell ads to support virtual-reality content. Disney’s ABC last year created a special VR segment of the series “Quantico” in which Lexus played a major role, all part of an ad pact.