NBA Digital Boosts Flexible Pricing Options for League Pass

Forward-thinking league remains at the forefront with innovative business model

There’s no doubt the NBA is the major sports league doing the most online experimentation as it looks for new ways to entertain fans. In June, it launched the 360 Portals AR app, which make fans feel like they’re standing on the paint with their favorite players. Today, at the start of the 2018-19 season, it has unveiled new pricing plans for League Pass, which ensure that all fans can watch live action even if they can’t afford a full-season subscription.

Viewers will have a new option for watching live games. Although the old League Pass tiers will remain — including a $249.99 Premium plan and $6.99 single games — fans will have a new fourth-quarter-only option. As soon as a game’s third quarter ends, fans will have a $1.99 option to live-stream the rest. It’s designed for when a game is getting a lot of attention on social networks and fans want to see its final moments.

“We think these micro transactions are going to be very useful to our fans, especially as you think about our 1.5 billion audience in the social community who are typically viewing highlights after a game,” says Mike Allen, SVP, digital product management, NBA. “They’ll now have the ability to jump directly into a live game from social.”

Before the season gets too far along, the NBA will offer a few other payment options as well. Soon, fans will get a reduced price as the game continues: when the second or third quarter starts, the individual game price will drop a little. Allen says details are still being worked out but it will debut soon.

Also, the NBA will offer a 10-minute option, enabling fans to pay for just 10 minutes of streaming for any game: say, someone has dinner plans at 8:00 and has time to catch only the tipoff and a little of the start of play. The goal, Allen says, is to provide fans with as many options as possible. The cost for the 10-minute option isn’t set yet, but it will also debut soon.

These micro transactions should appeal to connected fans who are already keeping track of games on Twitter or Facebook. If they see a player’s going for 40 or 50, that could be their cue to jump in and enjoy the action. The NBA is going to play that up by sending out alerts during can’t-miss moments. Fans will be able to customize the alert settings in the League Pass app to follow favorite teams or players.

The NBA has been experimenting with flexible pricing for years. When League Pass launched, the NBA offered only full-season access. It soon created a team-pass option and then a single-game option, which proved especially popular. Last season, it experimented with even shorter durations: for selected games, it offered second-half access at a reduced price. It got a good response from fans and plenty of positive feedback, so the league is taking price experimentation even further this year.

It sounds like a risky path, one in which fans skip the high-priced full access and buy only games (or parts of games) that interest them the most. But Allen has scoured the data and says that’s not what happens. Rather than cannibalizing sales, he says, low-cost options get casual fans hooked, leading them to higher-priced plans later on.

“We definitely want to make our games accessible to everyone,” he explains. “We do have a very young tech-savvy fan base, so we find providing as much choice and as many options for people to watch the games when they want, where they want, on the device they want has been a successful strategy for us.”

The NBA is also offering fans a variety of ways to pay for these plans: credit card, PayPal, or in-app purchase on iOS and Android or paying through the League Pass app or on NBA.com. There’s no connected-TV app option yet, but that’s in the works.

Allen will study the data generated by these new plans, looking at the number of people making a purchase and their subsequent behavior: do they make additional purchases over time?

The NBA’s experimentation and innovation doesn’t stop there. News of immersive video is apparently on the horizon.

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