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Decision to live-stream D-League games will provide much-needed exposure

NBA D-League More than 350 D-League games will be broadcast live on YouTube this year. (Jack Arent/NBAE via Getty Images)

By Ben Golliver

What to do when you can't convince more than a few thousand fans to watch minor league basketball in small arenas in far-flung locations? The NBA's answer: broadcast the games online.

NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver announced Tuesday that more than 350 D-League games will be broadcast live on YouTube this year, starting Friday.

The NBA and YouTube announced a new deal today that will provide fans with more than 350 NBA Development League games streamed live during the 2012-13 regular season on the NBA D-League YouTube channel and through a YouTube video player on NBA.com. The partnership was announced by Adam Silver, NBA Deputy Commissioner, and Claude Ruibal, Global Head of Sports for Google/YouTube.

“The NBA’s latest initiative with YouTube marks another milestone in our partnership and a great way to tip off the 12th season of the NBA Development League,” said Silver. “By turning to our longtime partner, YouTube, we are able to bring the NBA D-League to basketball fans around the world, further expanding the league’s growth and showcasing future NBA stars.”

“As one of the world’s most popular sports with a broad roster of top prospects, the NBA D-League is a perfect fit for the YouTube platform,” said Ruibal. “With our broad global delivery across all platforms and devices, providing live and catch up NBA D-League games and highlights will make this exciting content easily accessible to a whole new generation of basketball fans.”

This is an incredibly intelligent move. It's no secret that the D-League has struggled for the entirety of its existence to attract eyeballs, paying customers and any sort of meaningful media attention. The roster churn is so great, the competition for talent from overseas so significant and the regional tie-ins with parent clubs are still so loose that fans haven't consistently found reasons to invest their time and resources in the product. If the players are going to change all the time, if they're not necessarily the best in the world outside the NBA, and if they aren't on a clear track to get "called up" to the big leagues, why bother?

Those systemic problems aren't going to be fixed quickly or easily. What this agreement does, though, is make sure that D-League games don't take place in the equivalent of an empty forest. If the 2011 lockout had a clear unintended positive benefit, it was that the NBA's absence led to a growth in interest in basketball highlights around the globe, in formal and informal settings. Dunks, three-pointers and buzzer-beaters from charity games, pro-am leagues, sneaker releases, high school and small college games, and pro leagues in China and Europe, dominated NBA-related websites for months during the NBA drought. There's a large core audience that wants to see hoops, anywhere, anytime.

This deal, then, is great exposure for a league that desperately needs it, particularly because its schedule runs concurrently with the NBA's. Will this deal lead to huge YouTube views for individual games? Probably not, but no one would be surprised if online viewers outpaced in-person attendance. The bigger opportunity is the chance to go viral. If a D-Leaguer buried in the Dakotas explodes for 50 points or jumps over an opponent during a 360 degree dunk, fans are one major step closer to seeing, and sharing, that action.

The NBA has been a market leader when it comes to online video, and the future possibilities should this partnership prove successful are endless. Events like the NBA Finals, All-Star Weekend, the annual draft and Summer League all would lend themselves well to live-streaming on YouTube. Silver deserves a standing ovation on this one, even if the clapping crowd is made up of people alone in their living rooms, rather than together in a 20,000 person stadium.

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