Microsoft 'reimagines' NBA fans', teams' experiences

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NEW YORK: For NBA fans, basketball is about more than a sport—it’s about belonging to a community with a collective passion for the game, and the thrill of coming together to cheer on favorite players and teams. Players and teams, meanwhile, fuel their game with that explosive fan energy from the stands.

This year, however, the 2019-2020 season was set to restart on July 30th in Orlando—without any fans in attendance. Realizing it needed to reimagine a way to connect fans and players virtually, the NBA turned to Microsoft Teams.

This isn’t a net-new relationship. The NBA has long been an industry pioneer in embracing technology to augment and enrich its offerings. In fact, this past April, the NBA, and Microsoft established a multi-year alliance with the goal of creating next-gen experiences for basketball fans—starting with a new fan engagement platform offering personalized, live, and on-demand game broadcasts; historical video archives; and unique insights and analysis for NBA fans, coaches, and broadcasters.

Microsoft, in partnership with the NBA, have announced a reimagined fan experience powered by a new feature in Microsoft Teams called Together mode. Together mode uses AI segmentation technology to bring people together into a shared background like a conference room, coffee shop, or arena. Using scientific principles of cognition and social perception, Together mode is more than a virtual background—it makes being together virtually actually feel like being together in-person. It’s easy to maintain natural eye contact, for instance, or register fellow participants’ emotions as they react to what’s happening—whether it’s a meeting announcement, a class presentation, or the sight of a favorite NBA player about to score a three-pointer.

Starting July 30, the NBA will outfit each game court with 17-foot-tall LED screens that wrap three sides of the arena. These “stands” will be populated with more than 300 cheering fans who will join the game using Together mode in Teams. Alongside a view of their fellow fans, participants can watch a live feed of the game right within Teams.

“We are excited to partner with Microsoft to virtually incorporate NBA fans into our season restart,” said Sara Zuckert, head of Next Gen Telecast, NBA. “This unique live game experience will allow fans to maintain a sense of community as they watch their favorite teams and players."

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. Players, meanwhile, will experience their energy and support as they dribble down the court and see fans’ real-time reaction. And viewers tuning in to the game from home will feel the crowd’s energy as well as they see the virtual stands filled with fans.

At Microsoft, we admire the shared passion that connects NBA fans to players, teams, coaches, and broadcasters. And we are honored that Teams and Together mode can help this community continue to come together even when they need to stay physically apart. We are also so inspired by the NBA’s innovative spirit as they lead the way to create a professional sports season unlike any the world has seen. We look forward to supporting them with this new fan experience and beyond. 

In addition to the virtual fan boards powered by Microsoft Teams, the NBA also announced a slew of in-venue and broadcast and digital enhancements that will help create a more immersive and communal viewing experience for fans during the 2019-20 NBA Restart.