NBA analyst Steve Smith banks on younger fans changing the game

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Thursday June 8th, 2017

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Veteran NBA sportscaster and retired player Steve Smith understands that younger generations are changing the way people watch games, and he’s advising a tech startup to get in on the action.

Smith, a 14-year NBA veteran and former Atlanta Hawks All-Star player who won a championship with the San Antonio Spurs in 2003, signed on to SportsCastr.Live’s team of advisors and investors last week. 

He joins NBA Commissioner Emeritus David Stern, Syracuse University head basketball coach Jim Boeheim and two-time NFL Pro Bowler and Redskins tight end Vernon Davis, who announced their investment in the platform this past April.

SportsCastr.Live is a Periscope-like amateur live broadcasting app that people can use to practice their sportscasting skills or to find other amateur sportscasters to follow as a second-screen experience before, during and after games.

People can follow along and “like” or comment on the live stream, in a setup similar to that of Periscope or Facebook’s live video feature. But SportsCastr.Live differentiates itself by offering broadcast features that previously might have only been available to professionals in a studio setting.

The app offers basic graphics, such as game scoreboards up top or lower-thirds where users can insert a sentence about what their sportscast is covering. 

Smith, an NBA TV and Turner Sports/CNN studio analyst, said he grew familiar with the way technology is enhancing the fan-viewing experience after appearing in a virtual-reality broadcast for the NCAA tournament earlier this year.

In March, Turner Sports and CBS Sports partnered with Intel to broadcast six NCAA tournament games from the Sweet 16, Elite Eight, Final Four and Championship in virtual reality.

In an effort to monetize the experience, they sold digital tickets ($2.99 per game or $7.99 for all six), which enabled fans to watch games from multiple angles in virtual courtside seats. Ticket holders also received game commentary and calls from a team of pro-commentators, including Smith.

“There wasn’t a lot of viewership (or the NCAA VR broadcast), but you could tell that this is the way it’s going,” Smith said in an interview this week with SportTechie. 

With the VR experience, fans could watch the game from any angle they chose from cameras placed strategically on the court. Whereas a traditional broadcast might not show the face of the coach as his player dunked, a VR experience allows users to home in on the people they want, bouncing back and forth between player and coach in a 360-degree video format. 

“Younger sports fans love to watch games, but they also love to watch them in their control,” Smith said.

Smith was intrigued by SportsCastr.Live because it seemed to be a part of a wave of new technologies that are revolutionizing the way people consume sports. His sons, aged 15 and 18, watch games in a semi-distracted way, often multitasking while consuming, he said. 

“My son got up to pause the game because he had to go to the bathroom, and I was like, ‘whoa whoa what are you doing?’ But I obviously didn’t miss anything,” Smith said. “Then I see him listening to a game, playing a game, listening to music and chatting with his friends, all at the same time — that’s the way technology and sports watching are going.” 

Smith also believes the platform will help kids who are interested in sportscasting practice their game-calling skills, while potentially curating their own following the way vloggers did in the early days of YouTube.

“It’s endless in the way this thing can go,” Smith said. “Here’s a game live, and you have an opportunity to be a broadcaster, and to be in control.”

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