NBA using AI to engage with fans during coronavirus pandemic

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Posted on: July 31, 2020 6:31 pm EDT

With the basketball season set to resume tonight, the NBA is doing its best to make sure fans are part of the action. Although games will be played in an empty arena, the NBA is rolling out video technology and a special cheering app to virtually put fans in the stands.

In an interview with CNN personality Wolf Blitzer yesterday, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said, “It’s obviously very different for the players and it’s different for the fans watching at home. I mean, in this sport like a lot of others there’s that home court advantage, that six-man. It’s the roar of the crowd, the boos of the crowd. We are trying to replicate that to a certain extent without piping in obvious crowd noise.”

Both NBA and WNBA fans can download a special mobile app with a tap to cheer feature. In addition, the NBA is making use of a special Microsoft Teams mode to display images of fans on sideline arena screens, which players will see as they play.

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

All game courts are equipped with 17-foot-tall LED screens, which display 300 fans. The experience is powered by Microsoft Teams’ Together Mode, which uses artificial intelligence to create a shared background. Fans will also be able to find themselves sitting courtside during the game and in nightly highlight reels.

Players, fans, and pundits are eagerly waiting to see how well technology can make up to an otherwise empty arena. The NBA season resumes on Thursday with the Jazz facing the Pelicans and the Clippers at the Lakers.