NBA Latest Pro Sports To Add Virtual Fans To Games Via LED

July 27, 2020 by Dave Haynes

HT, Shea Darlison at Rise Vision for noting this …

Professional sports teams have been and are trying to figure out how to get back to live competitions when packing people into their venues is not allowed.

There are a few places around the globe where live sports is on and fans are allowed in the venues – like rugby in COVID-free New Zealand and baseball in South Korea and Taiwan. But in most cases, any fan participation is virtual.

Major League Soccer followed the lead of some European football teams by putting LED displays at pitch level, showing fans who are watching on webcams. At least I think they are. It could also be chroma keyed (blue screened) in.

Now the NBA is planning to do the same, albeit in a different way that makes fans look a little more like they’re in the seats and not on their couches.

The NBA will be holding all of its games at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, and more than 300 fans will be invited to link into a Microsoft Teams call that will potentially put them up live on the “Michelob ULTRA Courtside” 17-foot LED video boards that surround a TV-optimized playing court. 

The NBA says:

Those fans will have the opportunity to digitally interact with each other throughout the game using Microsoft’s “Together mode” to create a 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. 

This new experience—the first to go live as a result of the NBA’s strategic alliance with Microsoft—gives participating fans the feeling of sitting next to one another at a live game without leaving the comfort and safety of their homes, while players experience their energy and support in-venue.  

The league is also visualizing and trigger real-time data:

Additionally, all viewers will have the ability to impact visual effects in the venue through a virtual cheering experience.  Fans can digitally cheer for their team through the NBA App and and on Twitter using team hashtags throughout the game.  Virtual cheering will be reflected on the video boards in-venue with graphics and animations that capture the level of fan engagement around the world.  

Here’s a quick glimpse of what is planned.

I can only speak for myself in saying I could care less if there are virtual fans visible when I watch a game on TV, but I could be the exception. It feels like a gimmick, though not nearly as gimmicky as the virtual, totally digital crowds that FOX is going to CGI into its baseball broadcasts.

The players will likely have varied opinions on the tech, but let’s assume they’d tough it out – real fans or not – given their average annual salary is $7.7M. 

The great news here is that some live events companies that live and die off rentals of temporary LED displays are getting some work, at a time when their bread and butter of concert tours has totally dried up.

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