The sports world has ground to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, things are slowly starting to creep back to normal with professional leagues conducting shortened seasons and wrapping up their playoff hunts in strictly isolated “bubbles.”
The NBA is currently just days away from resuming play at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. When it does, there will be no fans in the arena. To make things less awkward and provide some energy for the games, the league is teaming up with Microsoft to put fans courtside—virtually.
Fans will be able to digitally attend NBA games thanks to Microsoft’s Teams software and its new Together mode.
There But Not
The resumption of professional basketball next week will be weird for both players and fans. Most NBA stars haven’t felt the pressure of playing in a silent arena since their high school days or earlier. Fans haven’t ever felt more separated from their teams.
The joint initiative between Microsoft and the NBA seeks to address both issues simultaneously.
The duo is working to create a socially distanced experience that will bring 300 fans into “seats” around the court in Orlando. Along three sides of the court, 17-foot screens are standing tall. Starting next week, they will be filled with live streams of fans all around the world.
They are specifically designed to reproduce the look of regular stadium seating in an atmosphere that is anything but regular.
Sara Zuckert, the NBA’s head of next-gen telecast, says, “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 league also mentioned in a press conference that it plans to let fans interact and cheer virtually in other ways. Details about how that will work remain unknown.
Unfortunately, not everyone will be able to sit courtside as the NBA resumes its season. Each of the 300 fans chosen to fill the virtual seats needs to have a special ticket to do so. Those who are lucky enough to participate will get to watch a live stream of the game alongside other remote fans.
“This new experience—the first to go live as a result of the NBA / Microsoft partnership — gives participating fans the feeling of sitting next to one another at a live game without leaving the comfort and safety of their homes,” says Jared Spataro, head of Microsoft 365. “Players, meanwhile, will experience their energy and support as they dribble down the court and see fans’ real-time reaction. And viewers tuning into the game from home will feel the crowd’s energy as well as they see the virtual stands filled with fans.”
New World of Sports
Professional sports games consistently attract massive crowds. In today’s world where COVID-19 seems to be calling all the shots, that’s a recipe for disaster.
No one knows how long it will be until fans can gather en masse at their team’s arena or stadium to cheer them on. So, leagues are working to develop remote solutions that keep fans engaged—albeit from afar.
The Burn-In previously reported on Yamaha’s Remote Cheerer app. It is similar to what the NBA will do and allows fans to make noise and root for their team in real-time from their smartphone.
Other teams aren’t so tech-savvy and are using cardboard cutouts to fill the void left by an empty stadium.