Although Facebook recently launched a new generation of Oculus VR devices and is discussing adding more VR NBA games next season, the company said better camera lenses would be required to truly replicate the courtside seat experience. Rob Shaw, Facebook’s head of Global Sports Media and League Partnerships, said the company is “still at the early stage of figuring out how we can create this better experience of sitting in that front row seat.”
Facebook wants to make its VR courtside games financially sustainable for the NBA, so they see it as an incremental revenue opportunity. “We do believe that it’s a premium experience that’s afforded to the masses,” Shaw said. “There’s got to be ways that brands are going to want to activate in those types of experiences, and there may be a willingness to pay subscriptions as a result of that.”
As he kicked back at home, audio technicians from a Red Hook-based company worked feverishly, operating elaborate equipment to produce crowd noises, attempting to convey the emotions of a would-be audience while synchronized with the action on the court. In doing so, they helped create a virtual reality of sorts, one in which viewers seldom were reminded of what was missing. “From home, the sounds made it feel like a regular game in an arena,” said Justin Cooper of Pine Plains, a former college basketball standout who now coaches the sport. “I’m sure for the players it was great to have some type of noise, so it didn’t seem like they were just playing in an empty space.”
In each of the three Wide World of Sports arenas that hosted games, a 10-channel immersive sound system with 130 speakers was installed to produce sounds around the court. That was for the players’ benefit, to mimic a typical in-game atmosphere. A separate audio system was fed into the television broadcast for the viewers. “When we went online and put the sound onto the court, we started quietly,” Dittmar said. “But, soon, the players were like, ‘Turn that up. We like it.’” The sound producers worked in teams of four with an NBA game director, an arena disc jockey and two technicians called “sweeteners,” who operated the sound boards.
Tatum said the NBA is still working through the auditing process with the National Basketball Players Association. The parties also need to agree on a start date for the next season. Tatum said the league learned a lot from its bubble environment and envisioned new capabilities because of 5G availability, which wireless carriers have been installing in sports arenas and stadiums around the country.
On Thursday, virtual coaching platform eCoach announced the launch of training videos from more than 40 of the NBA’s most elite head and assistant coaches. Coaches including Golden State Warriors Steve Kerr, Toronto Raptors Coach Nick Nurse and Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers are sharing shooting tips and their coaching expertise to players of all levels.
Kerr, who helped lead the Chicago Bulls to history with his sharp shooting back in the 90s, joined the eCoach platform three years ago. As the pandemic has threatened athletes’ ability to be together to play sports, he said online coaching has proved to be that much more important. “We’re just really looking for ways to spread coaching and instruction to people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to get it, especially from NBA coaches,” Kerr told CNBC in an interview this week.