Here's a look at the biggest technology stories to watch this year in the NBA.
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The 2016-17 NBA season began last night on TNT as the Cleveland Cavaliers began their title defense with their opening win against the New York Knicks, while the Golden State Warriors lost to the San Antonio Spurs.
The biggest storyline on the court is whether the addition of the Kevin Durant to the Warriors will yield another record-breaking year for the Bay Area team and a rubber match in the NBA Finals with the Cavaliers.
Off the hardwood, though, there are a handful of sports technology storylines SportTechie is following this season.
1. New Data Partners
A month ago, the NBA announced it was partnering with Sportradar and Second Spectrum around NBA data and player tracking, with the former company now distributing the league’s data and game feeds to gaming operators outside the United States. In addition, the league also announced that Second Spectrum would install a new player-tracking system at all NBA arenas prior to next year, a deal that is worth $250 million over six years according to Bloomberg.
“This partnership is the most comprehensive we’ve ever entered into,” Sportradar Managing Editor Ulrich Harmuth told SportBusiness International. “It covers all areas of our business—from streaming to betting operators and data distribution, to our integrity services and the distribution of tracking data.
“The deal obviously puts us into a stronger position in the US market, but the NBA is such a huge global brand that it will help grow our business in regions such as China, where basketball is a key sport.”
Starting in 2017-18, the new deal will also cement Sportradar as the league’s Official Provider of Real-Time Statistics while Second Spectrum becomes the NBA’s Official Optical Tracking Provider, replacing SportVU. Second Spectrum will provide a host of statistics such as speed, drives, distance, paint touches and defensive impact.
“As the interest in, and analysis of, data continues to grow around the world, we look forward to furthering the depth and reach of NBA data and analytics through our partnership with Sportradar and Second Spectrum,” Bill Koenig, NBA President of Global Content & Media Distribution, said in a statement.
2. Doubling Down On VR
A year after the Warriors and New Orleans Pelicans kicked off the 2015-16 season live in virtual reality, the NBA is renewing its commitment to the hottest technology in sports.
For the current year, the league and NextVR—the same company that powered last season’s broadcast—will live stream at least one NBA LEAGUE PASS game per week during the regular season. It is the first time a professional sports league has offered a regular schedule of games in virtual reality. As part of the multiyear deal, the first live VR broadcast of the season is scheduled for Thursday when the Sacramento Kings open the Golden 1 Center against the San Antonio Spurs.
“What we came to recognize is to really push innovation forward in the live space and VR, we needed to make a much bigger commitment,” said Jeff Marsilio, the NBA’s Vice President of Global Media Distribution. “We need to commit to innovating.”
3. New Video Integration On NBA Sidelines
For the first time ever in 2016, NBA teams will be allowed to view real-time video clips from the bench, according to USA Today.
Prior to the new rule, coaches and players could review video clips from the bench, but they had to constantly be brought back and forth from the locker room. The rule change gives coaches and team personnel the opportunity to view plays almost instantaneously after they happen on the hardwood.
“It’s a positive,” Portland Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts told The Oregonian about the change. “The fact that you can, at the next timeout, basically show a guy a play that either was good or wasn’t good, (is great). The immediacy of being able to use that is the most important thing.”
4. Golden 1 Center Debuts
The Kings unveil the Golden 1 Center on Thursday when they host the Spurs. Labeled as one of the more tech-savvy franchises in professional sports, the Kings will roll out some new integrations this season.
The team’s new remote control app, which has been available since Oct. 1, will help redefine the fan experience. With its dual-mode capability, fans will have the ability to switch between the team app and arena app while also being able to select from 30-plus integrations such as seat upgrades, fan experiences, mobile food ordering and payment .
“No other arena will provide fans and guests with real-time information and extreme customer service like Golden 1 Center,” said Kings Owner and Chairman Vivek Ranadivé in a statement. “This new app will be the fans’ remote control for the world’s most advanced arena, allowing them to customize and take control of their experience and engage with the team like never before.”
Additionally, the Kings in partnership with VOKE VR will share a Facebook Live steam of the team’s virtual reality pre-game show on Thursday night.
Last year, the team used VOKE—which it has invested in—to stream last season’s home-opener at Sleep Train Arena, becoming the first team to independently stream a VR game.
“Around the world, there are fans who may never have the chance to be a part of the spectacle of NBA basketball,” Ranadive said in a 2015 statement. “By partnering with VOKE, we can share the in-arena excitement in an unprecedented way. Through technology, we’ll connect with emerging fans, find new ones, and provide a truly unique experience.”
5. Snapchat Gains More Momentum
Some may argue the NBA is the best U.S. professional sports league on social media.
As the new season gets into full swing this week, the league announced it renewed and expanded its partnership with Snapchat. The extended deal will allow fans attending games to incorporate NBA-themed Bitmojis and Lenses into their Snapchat Stories. Additionally, fans at games have the option to display their Bitmoji on the arena jumbotron. With the revamped partnership, the NBA is the first professional sports league to partner with Bitmoji for custom Bitmoji packs.
Others leagues and properties, such as the NFL and NASCAR, have also made a concerted effort to focus on the millennial platform as of late. The NFL renewed its efforts with Snapchat prior to the current season, announcing a dedicated Discover Channel and Live Stories for each game this year. Additionally, NASCAR has experimented with drivers and other personalities taking over the property’s Snapchat acccount along with integrating Live Stories around the 2016 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
6. Tweet, Tweet
Twitter emojis have not only become a trend in 2016 but an expected part of the social experience for teams and fans. Around the 2016 NBA All-Star Game in Toronto, the NBA and Twitter collaborated on 24 Twitter emojis for each player in addition to emojis for the TNT broadcast crew.
It will be no different for 2016-17 as all 30 teams will have heir own emoji, the league announced on Monday. While 27 of the teams internally decided on their own emojis, three franchises—the Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors and Oklahoma City Thunder—allowed their fans to vote for their emoji.