The NBA has found a way to empower fans during live games — while keeping them safe.
Basketball is back and “bubble life” has been a joy to watch. Players and staff are making tremendous sacrifices for the cause, as they remain isolated from their families and the outside world. But interestingly, the NBA is learning that their hardship during these trying times is offset by an overwhelming feeling of increased brotherhood and camaraderie among players. It is a testament to the innate human ability to improvise, adapt, and overcome — when the going gets tough, the tough get going.
Unique insights like these are invaluable to the NBA because while the resumption of play was well thought out and is vastly successful, this is still an unprecedented model of play on the court.
Significant time is spent off the court and thanks to help from SAP and Qualtrics technology, the NBA can feel the pulse of the players through actionable data points that contributes to an evolving strategy built on decisive measures. Players and personnel consistently give non-invasive feedback on two simple questions: How are you doing? What is one thing we could do to make your day better?
These are helpful questions that everyone should use to check in with family, friends, and employees from time to time. For the league, it lends to continual enhancements toward life in the NBA bubble.
Fans Morph Into Digital Fanatics
Stadiums are built for fans, but fans have the right to safety. Enter the digital fan experience. You have likely heard of the 17-foot-tall LED screens that allow fans to sit courtside, from the comfort of their homes. You may have even caught glimpses of some famous personalities joining in on the fun. Rapper Lil Wayne gave a virtual high-five to a random fan and multiple NBA legends have enjoyed watching games from these virtual seats. The random cameos add yet another exciting broadcasting element to the games as the playoffs tip off. It is the “surprise and delight” concept at its best.
“While fans can’t be in the arenas in person, we are focused on bringing our fans closer to the game in innovative ways,” Sara Zuckert, head of Next Generation Telecasts for the NBA, shared. “We knew this would be something different, and we are thrilled to see how popular it has been with fans so far”.
But what is the experience actually like? I sat in a virtual seat to check it out and the process is simple. For each game, the home team offers the Michelob ULTRA Courtside experience to key stakeholders, such as season ticket holders, local charities, and even friends and family of the players. Once selected, the lucky fan is given login credentials to the digital experience. He or she will enter the virtual section, meet other fans, and receive directions from an NBA moderator to create a split-screen between their seat section and the game.
As the game goes on there is an increased interest to watch the action while also mingling with the crowd. In my experience, we fist bumped with strangers, created waves, mimicked one another, and even brought our dogs into the seats. The sense of connection and camaraderie was an extremely pleasant surprise.
Following this experience — when you would usually be stuck in traffic — fans receive the Qualtrics XM NBA Virtual Fan Survey to provide feedback directly to the league so it can continue making enhancements. As the feedback continues to grow, the experience can evolve. I could envision a hybrid model to keep these digital fans when the time does come to start trickling back into stadiums.
Until then, we can watch with excitement as the teams continue battling toward the NBA Finals, with one eye on the court and the other watching the stands to see how creative these digital super fans can get as they continue cheering in new and exciting ways.
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This story originally appeared on SAP BrandVoice on Forbes.