Sports

The NBA Is Taking More Fans To The Hoops With Virtual Reality

by Kristin Marguerite Doidge

February 22, 2018
The Knicks take on the Celtics. Photo courtesy of NextVR.

Your view of Steph Curry’s next stunning three-point shot might be closer than you think.

The NBA recently announced an extended engagement with NextVR for all the 2017-2018 season’s games, which means that fans get to have a more immersive 3D virtual reality experience while watching any of the 30 NBA teams’ duke it out on the court each week.

NBA League Pass subscribers can select up to 13 NBA games to live-stream with the NextVR Screening Room in which fans can immerse themselves in a 360-degree, virtual movie-theater-screen-sized version of the game. NBA League Pass is part of NBA Digital, the NBA's extensive cross-platform portfolio of multimedia assets jointly managed by the NBA and Turner Sports, providing access to nearly 1,000 out-of-market live games.

So, how much does it matter that more fans — particularly from the younger generation — become immersed in the game? A lot, it turns out, according to studies that show watching sports is akin to playing sports in terms of brain activity. Not only do diehard fans watching games enjoy the same “feel good” dopamine and serotonin effects associated with playing sports, researchers say, they’re also likely to report an improved sense of belonging and meaning in their lives and even increased levels of empathy.

The team at NextVR wants to take those feelings to the next level with improved visuals and live reporting that explains where to look and what to look for while you feel as though you’re in the game and not just watching it.

“We're not talking about incremental change,” says Danny Keens, vice president of content at NextVR. “It's really transformational change. We're getting fans closer to the action. Now for the first time, it's the equivalent to people stepping into the screen.” 

Keens says that means reaching fans of not only the NBA but game and technology enthusiasts as well — and not just in the U.S.

“The NBA has a rapidly growing global fan base,” says Jeff Marsilio, senior vice president for the NBA’s new media distribution unit, “but due to logistics, many fans will never be able to see an NBA game in person.” He says virtual reality has allowed the league to bring a version of that in-arena experience directly to fans around the world.

As part of NBA League Pass, NextVR’s games are fully produced with dedicated announcers, 10 to 12 camera angles (including one behind the glass at the basket), and crisper graphics. The VR announcers provide commentary before the show, during half-time, and during the game to help optimize the user experience.

Fans can access the games through the NBA League Pass VR section of NextVR’s app and can catch a free preview on Feb. 24 or March 15, 2018. There’s also weekly complimentary on-demand content within the NBA League Pass VR section in the NextVR app that features game highlights and full-game replays of each virtual reality game.

In terms of gear, you’ll need a Samsung GearVR headset or Google Daydream, along with a compatible smartphone and will have to download the free NextVR app from the Oculus Store or the Google Play Store respectively. Microsoft Windows Mixed Reality users can also experience games in VR.

“We’re getting fans into seats they can’t even buy,” Keens adds. “We’re courtside, behind the hoop, and even in the locker room sometimes. We were inside the Warriors locker room when they clinched the national championship, as they were celebrating. We’re in the huddle. We get to be with them when they're most emotional.”

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