NBA Returns: Inside the Virtual Fan Video Experience

NBA's Head of Next Gen Telecasts Sara Zuckert breaks down the popular tech

Anyone tuning into the NBA games being played at the Disney’s Wide World of Sports in Orlando definitely notices the steps the NBA has taken to not only offer up new camera angles but also virtual fans and a variety of other elements. Sara Zuckert, NBA, head of Next Gen Telecasts, is at the center of many of those efforts, one of which involved Microsoft, an NBA partner, to figure out how to integrate fans in buildings where no fans are physically allowed. “We wanted to figure out the best way to bring fans to the experience in a genuine way,” she says.

Sara Zuckert says the NBA’s virtual fans is just one way to get fans to connect to games being played hundreds or thousands of miles away.

The solution has been 17-foot video boards that make use of Microsoft’s Teams Together mode to allow for 320 fans to use their Webcams and smartphones to be seen and cheer on their favorite teams.

“We landed on 320 because it was the best visual experience as the fans aren’t too big or too small,” says Zuckert.

Zuckert says the virtual fan experience is constantly improving as the goal is to increase the community feel and connection between the fans.

“We have hype teams now and fans are participating in activities like the wave,” she explains. “We want to make it as much fun as we can.”

Key to the successful implementation is that the fans have an understanding of how to use Teams given the reliance on video conferencing during the pandemic.

Up to 320 virtual fans can attend every NBA game via Microsoft Team.

Virtual cheering is another way for fans to interact via the NBA app, or Twitter. Tap to Cheer offers a screen that has team logos. Fans tap on the logo and cheering will be represented by graphics and visual effects on video boards at the court in Orlando.

“It lets the players see engagement at home and is another element to bring the community closer together,” adds Zuckert.

Zuckert’s day-to-day is to work on the future of NBA telecasts, what they look like, and integration with other technologies. For example, the railcam system has its own dedicated feed on NBA League Pass and ESPN’s digital platform and those type of personalized and customized ways to watch an NBA game are top of mind. And they could even be in use when fans do get back to being in the arenas.

“We can learn from these new initiatives and will look to bring new experiences to fans in the future,” she adds.

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