In 1993 the National Basketball Association entered the world of the internet by initiating NBA.com, their official home site. The impact it has had on the league is unique, and I will discuss how the internet made the NBA the global league it has become. Specifically, I will look at the introduction of live Webcast games.
About the NBA
Since its founding in 1946, the NBA has become a global phenomenon that transcends national boundaries. With 29 teams in the United States and Canada, NBA games and related programming are broadcast to 210 countries in 42 languages. The NBA is one of the largest suppliers of sports television and Internet programming in the world.
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Through NBA Entertainment, the league’s award-winning production and programming division, the league produces NBA.com TV, a 24-hour television network, weekly television shows, and exclusive content for each of the NBA’s team Web sites, and the league’s official site, NBA.com. The league has partnered with the leading Internet content and technology providers, including America Online, Convera, IBM, RealNetworks, USA Networks, and Yahoo! to bring the game experience even closer to its fans worldwide.
NBA in a unique position
For the last 20 years, the NBA has been in a unique situation that has allowed them to take greater benefit from the internet then probably every other league. The explanation for this lies firstly in the fact that as a basketball league, the NBA is a hundred times more popular than every other basketball league in the world. The quality of play, the entertainment value and the money involved are so much better in the NBA that there really is no competition. This puts the NBA in a position where they draw every basketball fan around the world to them. The other sports competing with basketball as major sports are football (or soccer as heathens say) and golf. What separates the NBA from football is that there are several professional football leagues fighting for world supremacy. Italians follow Serie A, the British follow the English Premier League, the Spanish watch Primeira Divisione etc.
Golf, unlike basketball, has never been a sport that has drawn attention from the young and trendy groups of our population. Basketball is by many considered the hippest and cool sport, and where golf has traditions, basketball has the ability to adapt to time. NBA.com is one such adaptation.
10 years ago the NBA had a grip on the Americans, but could not fully take advantage of the huge potential that lied in the rest of the world due to lack of technology. As an avid fan who lived in Europe and desperately wanted to see NBA games and read about the league, I often felt I had to go through to much hassle just to get a tape of a game played 2 months earlier. The solution to my and millions of other international fans problem came in 1993 when the NBA launched their official home site, NBA.com.
NBA.com features news, video and audio coverage of the league. The beauty of NBA.com to fans is that the site has live updates of games being played so even though you’re in Hong Kong you can follow what is happening in an arena in Seattle, the U.S.A. on a computer monitor. The impact of the internet and NBA.com on globalising the NBA has been a huge success according to a USA Today article:
“The NBA is No. 1 among all English-language Web sites in attracting users outside the USA, says comScore Networks, a firm whose data is based on monitoring about 1.5 million Internet users worldwide. In March, nba.com drew 2.8 million non-U.S. users — 41% of total users.” (Hiestand, 2002)
With these kinds of numbers, there should be no doubt in the interest of NBA.com among international Internet users.
The success of NBA.com certainly can’t only be due to the position of basketball in the world of sports. The official site mostly enjoys frequent visitors, which means the product NBA.com offers must be of great quality. In the early years of NBA.com, one could follow games live with a scoreboard. The next step was the opportunity to see players stats as the game was played, e.g. how many points Michael Jordan had was updated every minute. After this they launched a new concept, “Courtside Live” (see fig.1), which gave Internet users a new way to follow games live:
- Shot charts tracking all shots made — and missed — by every player and both teams
- Detailed, live play-by-play including every event from rebounds to turnovers
- A hustle board comparing team stats such as offensive rebounds and steals
- Complete, individual in-game statistics for every player
- A live box score for in-depth and up-to-the-minute statistics
- A basket-by-basket scoring log, tracking every point scored
- Personalized notification messages when key events occur
Friday the 13th of November last year was not a day of bad luck, more the opposite. For the first time Internet users could watch a complete game, live, on NBA.com. Those with broadband access were able to watch the Dallas Mavericks play the Sacramento Kings at nearly 30-f/s quality with CD-quality audio for free on NBA.com and REAL.com. It is only in it’s testing out phase now:
“The purpose of the experimental Webcast was “to find out how fans want to receive the content.” Since last year, fans have been able to watch video highlights, though not until after a game has ended,” (Grotticelli, 2001) says vice president of the NBA’s Internet Services, Brenda Spoonemore and promises things to come:
“This will be the first true Internet league,” Spoonemore points out. “We’re looking for the best ways to distribute the games in a format that fans like. This gives us a six-month lead-time to test games on the Internet and get it right before the new league’s debut.” (Grotticelli, 2001)
For the live Mavericks– Kings Webcast, NBA.com also utilized user-controlled 360-degree streaming video from Be Here Corp., Los Angeles. Its Internet NVC technology-enabled viewers to the pan, tilt and zoom in on the game action at will. Be Here’s camera was installed courtside on the scorer’s table. Video footage captured through a fisheye lens was processed in real-time with Be Here’s patented imaging software and streamed immediately to fans across the Internet. Ambient audio was married to the 360-degree views.
The live broadcast over the Internet made it clear that unless one has a broadband connection, the whole experience is a waste of time, but the feedback from broadband users was extremely positive according to Spoonemore:
“People on DSL, in particular, had “an extremely good experience, and they let us know about it.” (Stump, 2001)
NBA.com used Be Here’s NVC Technology that allowed Internet users to pan, tilt and zoom in on the game action at will, and Be Here’s free RealPlayer plug-in integrates seamlessly with the standard RealPlayer application. Steve Hellmuth, NBA Senior Vice President of Operations and Technology had this to say about the technology:
“The Mavericks-Kings webcast is a great way for us to offer NBA fans a unique experience with streaming technology. Through Be Here’s technology, we can put fans in the director’s chair and allow them to select the action they most want to see.” (behere.com)
CEO of Be Here truly believes that computer and sport have a blinding future together:
“Webcasting a live NBA game with Be Here’s Internet NVC technology marks a significant step forward in the evolution of live interactive sports content,” said Andrew Thau, CEO of Be Here Corporation. “Partnering with the NBA and RealNetworks on this project has allowed us to provide the viewer with a taste of the incredible opportunities that accompany the continuing convergence of sports content and technology.” (behere.com)
Broadband offers a number of tantalizing future opportunities for sports leagues like the NBA. In addition to games, Webcast and/or delivered via video-on-demand after they have been completed. A condensed version of a game could also be made available after the contest ends. And archived videos or personalized highlight reels (see fig.2) could also be made available.
“We believe there is a consumer demand for some of that,” Spoonemore said.
Figure 2 (nba.com)
Viewers could make up their own highlights reel 10 minutes after the end of each quarter of the April 13 game between the Dallas Mavericks and the Sacramento Kings.
Using broadband to offer archival material is another “fascinating” idea, added Spoonemore, but she sounded a note of caution.
“I’m not sure there is a business model to support that yet,” she said. “It takes a tremendous amount of storage space to keep all that content, but we’re well aware of the value of those assets.” (Stump, 2001)
Though the live broadcast had great success one must question whether it can compete with regular television broadcast, something Spoonemore knows is an obstacle:
“It’s important that you be honest with your fans,” she adds. “We realize that the Internet experience is in no way competitive with the experience you get watching broadcast TV. But there is value in what we offer, and we’ve shown that fans like it as well.” (Stump, 2001)
For Americans who can view most games on TV, the value of NBA.com has yet to match the value, it has for international fans who don’t have access to television channels that send NBA games. Up to one-third of the NBA’s online audience is from outside the U.S. and most of those users have broadband connections. So when you imagine that within a few years broadband will be a household thing, the potential live Webcast of games has is huge. There’s no doubt that what computer technology has done for the NBA is most likely unmatched in the world of sports. They have found a way to keep up with time and how to connect with fans from around the world. The will to try something new and break away from guidelines has given the NBA another edge in the fight to get fans.
1 Hiestand, Michael, USA Today; Arlington, Va.; Apr 30, 2002
2 Matt Stump; Multichannel News; New York; Nov 12, 2001;
3 Michael Grotticelli; Broadcasting & Cable; New York; Apr 23, 2001;
4 nba.com official site of the National Basketball Association
5 http://www.behere.com/news_press_041101.htm Be Here Press Release
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