NBA AR 360 Portals Invites Fans To Join the Experience

The immersive app launched in time for the Cavaliers-Warriors Finals

Look through your phone, and a doorway appears in front to you, in whatever room you happen to be. Inside that doorway, you see a stadium full of people, with NBA stars and cheerleaders entertaining the crowd. Now step through the door: you’re on the arena floor as the Golden State Warriors are introduced. Pan your phone around or even up: the scene explodes around you, with thousands of fans cheering from their seats. Turn around and see the same doorway you came through, this time with the room you just left showing inside.

With 360 Portals, fans can use their smartphone to step through a door into an NBA experience.

That’s 360 Portals, the immersive experience the NBA debuted just in time for the NBA Finals. This clever use of augmented reality (AR) puts fans directly in the action. Available through the free NBA AR app, 360 Portals lets fans stand alongside Lebron James, watch Stephen Curry take a shot, and warm up with Kevin Durant. They can join the Celtics in a pregame hallway huddle or the Rockets in a postgame celebration. 360 Portals uses the phone’s forward- and rear-facing cameras to recognize the fan’s place in physical space, offering another dimension for the fan to step in and out of.

The league plans to offer at least one new portal experience for each game in the Finals. And the fun won’t stop after that, because the league plans to offer new experiences during the off-season, as well.

“The portal concept came about from our team’s recognizing that a majority of our fans around the world will never set foot in one of our 29 arenas. We wanted to transport those fans onto the court or behind the scenes at our biggest events of the year: the NBA Playoffs and Finals,” explains Mike Allen, SVP, digital product management, NBA. “[Being transported] into the arenas at our biggest event of the year, fans will get some of the best access anywhere. And, for all moments, the portals will give fans a chance to stay a while, look around — you really do notice something different every time you’re inside — and relive the moment over and over again.”

The NBA’s digital team uses a ZCAM S1 Pro 360 VR camera to shoot the 360-degree video for its portals and creates the AR experiences with Apple ARKit and Google ARCore technology. There are currently more than 400 million AR-compatible phones, Allen notes. The launch of 360 Portals marks the first time NBA AR has been available on Android devices.

The league recognizes that its fans are young and tech-savvy, he adds, and those fans expect innovative experiences. But NBA AR isn’t about simply wowing with the latest hot tech; it’s about creating new and engaging offerings for fans. 360 Portals isn’t just a way to show off eye-catching AR. It’s a way to use technology to bring new and existing fans closer to the game. It gives fans an experience they can get excited about.

360 Portals and Pop-A-Shot are the NBA’s AR apps.

This isn’t the NBA’s first AR experiment. That goes to Pop-a-Shot, a game also available on the NBA AR app. With Pop-a-Shot, fans pin an authentic NBA backboard and court into their real-world environment, then use their phone’s accelerometer to flick shots at the hoop before the 30-second shot clock runs out. Allen says fans have used it in Times Square, in front of the Eiffel Tower, and even in the middle of the ocean.

The NBA is committed to doing more with AR. For now, Pop-a-Shot is a solo experience, but Allen thinks it would be even more fun if fans could play each other and share stats. A recently announced partnership with Magic Leap will give fans the opportunity to watch games in mixed reality, so the ability for fans to play each other could be coming soon.

As for the portal experience, Allen thinks going live would make these moments even more exciting.

“We’re already looking into what live portals might be like,” he says. “Imagine being able to step onto the court as game-winning celebrations erupt or into the locker room before a pivotal game — all as it unfolds.” Although immersive AR experiences are great, live AR experiences would be the next best thing to being there.