In preparation for the NBA resuming the 2019-20 season in Orlando on July 30, the league has been coming up with new, innovative ways to bring fans of the game into the arena. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, sports across the world have been returning without fans in attendance. However, the league is trying as best as possible to make them feel inside the arena without having to leave the comfort and safety of their home.
In partnership with Michelob Ultra, which was announced earlier this week as the official beer of the NBA, the league is creating the "Michelob ULTRA Courtside" experience which will allow fans to virtually appear on video boards surrounding the courts in Orlando. Each game will have up 300 fans of the home team displayed on the digital board, where they can interact with each other, react to the action happening on the court and cheer on their favorite team during the game. There will also be reserved virtual seats for players' family members for each game. All of this will be visible to the players on the court, as well as people watching the broadcast at home, and was created in an effort to best replicate the feel of being at an NBA game during these unprecedented times.
The NBA announced today a multidimensional plan for in-venue and broadcast enhancements for the resumption of the 2019-20 season. Which includes the chance for fans to appear live during games on the “Michelob ULTRA Courtside” 17-foot video boards surrounding the court. pic.twitter.com/V43zWmwZZ4— Jasmyn Wimbish (@JasmynWimbish) July 24, 2020
During a call with reporters on Friday morning, Sara Zuckert, the NBA Head of Next Gen Telecast, walked through the courtside experience that fans will have a chance to be a part of, as well as other ways those at home will have an impact on the visual effects of the game. Through the NBA app, NBA.com and on Twitter, fans can "digitally cheer" for their team, by using specific team hashtags, and their interactions will pop up on the digital boards in the arena.
"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," Zuckert said in a press release. "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 way fans will be able to gain access to these virtual courtside seats will vary from team-to-team, but they could be won through giveaways or donations to specific organizations or charities. Fans will also be able to enter for a chance to win one of the seats starting on July 30 through Michelob Ultra, by visiting ultracourtside.com to enter.
In addition to these new immersive ways fans can enjoy the return of the NBA, the league will also be enhancing other areas of the viewing experience of the game. More than 30 cameras will be used to broadcast the games, with many of them being positioned closer to the court to bring viewers different and new camera angles that have not been used before. Other areas, that have already been implemented during televised scrimmages, are enhanced court audio to hear the bouncing of the ball and players' shoes squeak across the floor.
While the league is trying to make the restart as engaging as possible for viewers at home, though, the focus will still be on the players.
"For us philosophically, the most important thing is what's happening on the court," Craig Barry, Executive Vice President and Chief Content Officer of Turner Sports said on a call with reporters. "The interesting part of Orlando is this is a made for television event, and as we start integrating the technology and all the innovation that's going on within Orlando and the campus, we're going to start to figure out what works and what doesn't work. I don't want to speculate and say we're going to go right off the top and integrate this stuff, because what's happening on the court and the access to what's happening on the court is the most important. We're going to work through it. That's what the scrimmages are for, and we're going to learn what works well for the broadcasts and lean into that."
The NBA resumes games on July 30 at Disney World in Orlando after shutting down on March 11 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Each of the 22 teams invited to the bubble site will play eight "seeding games" to determine the playoff order. The first round of the postseason is set to begin Aug. 17, with the NBA Finals slated to start on Sept. 30.