NBA-Microsoft pact to perk up fans


NBA and Microsoft Image:

The National Basketball Association (NBA) has entered into a multi-year partnership with US technology giant Microsoft. The league says the pact will “redefine” the fan experience, both in-arena and at home. The technology giant will provide the basketball league with Azure cloud services and Surface tablets.

The NBA will use Microsoft Azure and Surface tablets to create new game features for the 2020-21 seasons. Microsoft Azure is a cloud computing service created by Microsoft for building, testing, deploying, and managing applications and services through Microsoft-managed data centers.

The National Basketball Association is a men’s professional basketball league in North America, comprising 30 teams. It is one of the four major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada, and is widely considered to be the premier men’s professional basketball league in the world.

As per the pact inked, Microsoft will become the official Artificial Intelligence (AI) partner and an official cloud and laptop partner for the NBA, Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), NBA G League, and USA Basketball, beginning with the 2020-21 NBA seasons.

The NBA G League, formerly the NBA Development League or NBA D-League, is the NBA’s official minor league, preparing players, coaches, officials, trainers and front office staff for the NBA while acting as the league’s research and development laboratory. USA Basketball is a non-profit organization and the governing body for basketball in the United States.

Microsoft and NBA Digital will in tandem create a new, innovative, direct-to-consumer platform on Microsoft Azure that will use machine learning and AI to deliver next-generation, personalized game broadcasts and other content offerings, as well as integrate the NBA’s various products and services from across its business.

NBA Digital is the NBA’s extensive cross-platform portfolio of digital assets jointly managed by the NBA and Turner Sports.

The league said the platform will “reimagine” how fans engage with the NBA from their devices by customizing and localizing experiences for the global fan base, which includes the 1.8 billion social media followers across all league, team and player accounts.

Beyond delivering live and on-demand game broadcasts through Microsoft Azure, the NBA’s vast array of data sources and extensive historical video archive will be promoted to fans through futuristic machine learning, cognitive search and advanced data analytics solutions. This is designed to give fans a more personalized experience that adapts the content to the preferences of the fan, rewards participation, and provides more insights and analysis.

Further, the NBA informed that the platform will allow it to uncover unique insights and add new dimensions to the game for fans, coaches and broadcasters. The companies will also explore additional ways technology can be used to enhance the NBA’s business and game operations.

As part of the deal, Microsoft will become the entitlement partner of the NBA Draft Combine beginning next season and an associate partner of future marquee events, including NBA All-Star, NBA Summer League and WNBA All-Star.

Remarked Adam Silver, NBA Commissioner, in a statement, “This partnership with Microsoft will help us redefine the way our fans experience NBA basketball. Our goal, working with Microsoft, is to create customized content that allows fans – whether they are in an NBA arena or watching from anywhere around the world – to immerse themselves in all aspects of the game and engage directly with our teams and players.”

The agreement represents one of the largest commercial deals signed by a US major sports league amidst COVID-19. Along with other professional sports leagues, the NBA suspended its current season on March 11 to arrest the spread of coronavirus, and Silver told mediapersons that the Microsoft deal is timely with leagues planning for a future playing out games in empty arenas.

Silver added, “I think the fact that we are announcing it in the middle of this pandemic is a testament to how important it is that we move forward with this deal. Time is of essence here.”

Silver acknowledged that supporters still prefer courtside seats over any other option to watch games, but added the league’s venture with Microsoft will bring fans who cannot access this experience as close to the action as possible. He said, “How can you replace that experience? Maybe we can come close to it.”

Silver further remarked that part of the objective is to open up new experiences for fans if games are played without crowds for some period of time.

The league is aiming to use the technology to deliver new features and experiences for fans, which could include live translations, specialized camera angles for favorite players, the display of statistics, integrated archival footage or allowing fans to chat during games.

The NBA will also move some of its key on-premise infrastructure over to Microsoft’s Azure services. Azure will also serve as the exclusive backend technical partner to power the NBA’s direct-to-consumer app, the companies said in a joint statement.

For Microsoft, the NBA deal adds another major league to its business portfolio. Microsoft has been in association with the National Football League (NFL) since 2013, expanding this relationship through a multi-year extension signed in March.

Microsoft has a similar deal with LaLiga – the men’s top professional football division of the Spanish football league system. Minerva Santana, Director of Innovation, LaLiga Spain, Juan Iraola, Head of Digital TF, Real Sociedad, Spain, and Iñigo Bonilla, Head of Innovation, GSIC powered by Microsoft, Spain, will be present at Coliseum Summit EUROPE to be held at Ascot Racecourse, UK, on September 2-3, 2020. They will explain how to enhance the fan experience with the help of technology in the summit.

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