With the MLB playoff season in full bloom and the NHL season just starting to heat up, it’s time to shift to the NBA season.
The NBA is one of the most tech-forward major leagues in the world, having long been considered one of the most experimental with new technologies such as virtual reality and mobile-based fan engagement.
The 2017-18 season will continue to shape the league’s innovation efforts. Here are 7 important technology storylines to keep an eye on this NBA season.
1. Augmented Reality Experience
The NBA is the first U.S. sports league to launch an augmented reality game for fans. Through an iOS app, called NBA AR, fans at games can play virtual pop-a-shot, where they use their iPhones to flick a digital ball into a basket.
The game can work in arenas during games but also out in the world, where fans can find digital renderings of official NBA baskets nearly anywhere at anytime. The NBA says this is just the start, with plans to launch more augmented reality games and experiences later this season.
2. Virtual Reality Streaming
After streaming one weekly regular season NBA League Pass game in virtual reality last season through a partnership with NextVR and then creating virtual reality highlights of the NBA Finals, the league will expand its virtual viewing options this season.
Through NextVR, 27 live games featuring all 30 NBA teams will be professionally produced for virtual reality.
Separately, every NBA League Pass game this season will be available for subscribers to watch on a virtual big screen through the NextVR Screening Room.
While the League Pass games won’t be produced specifically for a virtual reality broadcast as the 27 live games will be, fans will be able to immerse themselves in a 360-degree environment and choose up to 13 games to stream per game night.
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3. NBA 2K Esports league
The NBA 2K esports league is slated to begin in 2018 with 17 participating teams, including last year’s champions the Golden State Warriors and also the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The league will be operated in partnership with video game maker Take-Two Interactive Software. The competitive league will feature the top 85 NBA 2K gamers in the world.
4. Connected Uniforms
Through a new eight-year deal between the NBA and Nike that will see Nike as the exclusive apparel maker for the NBA, basketball jerseys this year will get an upgrade.
On an introductory level, the Nike logo will now be placed on every team’s jersey. This also will include technologies that could open up a new world of smart and connected jerseys. To start, an NFC chip will be located in the bottom left corner of jerseys that customers can purchase, which will unlock a host of player data for fans on their phones.
Nike and the NBA will also debut the Nike Therma Flex Showtime Warm-up Jacket with fabrics that help to maintain an athlete’s optimal body temperature during warm up.
And this season marks the first time the league has shared branding on the coveted real-estate of a uniform. The league is allowing brands to partner with teams on sponsorship deals and include their logos on jerseys, such as the partnership between Fitbit and the Minnesota Timberwolves.
5. NBAmojis & Alexa
In the never ending quest to better engage fans, new technologies will launch this season that will make it easier for fans to access information about their favorite players and teams while showcasing their support.
The connected jerseys are a major step in this direction, but a partnership with Amazon also promises to deliver information to fans with voice commands given through Echo for all 30 teams. Alexa can also provide general information like players’ career and season stats, team records and starting lineups.
This season will see more NBA emojis added to the Google keyboard for Android. Developed in partnership with YinzCam, the NBAmoji App first debuted during the 2016 NBA Finals. Since then, hundreds of emojis representing the league, teams and players have been added.
With mobile technology and wearables continuing to creep their way into athletic training programs, the use of wearables during practice and games and the privacy surrounding the data collected from those wearables will continue to be up for debate this season.
The National Basketball Players Association and NBA struck a new collective bargaining agreement that went into effect this summer, limiting how teams can access and use data collected about a player from their wearable devices. One of the big takeaways was that data collected from wearable devices worn during practices couldn’t be used for or against players during contract negotiations.
For now, wearables still won’t be allowed on players during games.
7. Sportradar Takes Off
This will be the first season that the deal to track player data, struck between the NBA, Sportradar and Second Spectrum will officially kick off.
Sportradar’s six-year multifaceted data distribution partnership with the NBA makes it the “official provider of real-time NBA league statistics.” The sports data company will provide league data worldwide to media outlets, broadcasters, fans and betting houses in Europe, where sports gambling is legal.
Much of that will include coming up with new ways to visualize that data to engage fans, as well as an analyzation of data to spot broader trends that could aid in player performance.
Last week, Sportradar announced an acquisition of Mocap Analytics, which, best known for its five-year relationship with the Warriors, will give it the artificial intelligence needed to analyze player data and tell better stories.