As professional competitive sports in America slowly make their way back to our television screens, many are unsettled by the sight of their favorite teams playing in front of empty crowds. Due to the current coronavirus pandemic, all mass gatherings have been put to a halt, prompting all sports to essentially shut down. Now, sports are able to exist again, just in a much more condolences fashion.
The NBA has heard their fans and as they gear up to restart the 2020 season on July 30th, they came to the agreement with tech-giant Microsoft that fans needed to be present at every game, just in a much safer and distanced way. Microsoft and the NBA announced this week that it would be using new technology to project more that 300 basketball fans onto 17-foot tall video screens that will be courtside during all games.
The fans will be able to interact with each other as well, allowing them to feel like they’re really sitting next to a bunch of other fans during the live games. Sara Zuckert is the NBA’s head of next generation telecasting, and recently spoke with the media about this new fan experience.
“Our goal is to create an enjoyable and immersive experience where fans can engage with each other and maintain a sense of community as we restart the season under these unique and challenging circumstances.”
The specific feature from the Microsoft team is known as “together mode” and it was initially released in the beginning of July as a feature for remote workers to make meetings more engaging, allowing everyone to “focus on other people’s faces and body language, making it easier to pick up on non-verbal cues that are so important to human interaction.”
Microsoft claims that Together Mode uses AI technology to put all video chat participants in the same setting by giving everyone a shared background. The company claims this makes it easier for everyone to feel as though they’re in the same space as one another. In this case, that space will be a basketball arena, and the NBA claims that the chosen fans will be able to impact visual effects within the arenas themselves through “virtual cheering” and different graphics and animations to motivate the players.
As we know, the NBA is using the “bubble strategy” to resume their season and protect all players and NBA staff members from potential Covid-19 infection. 22 teams are projected to play a total of 88 games, after which 16 will move on to the playoffs. Once eight teams remain, friends and families will be able to join and watch in person on the sidelines.
Major League Baseball is looking into similar technologies to bring the same level of fan-energy to their arenas as they continue with their recently restarted 2020 season. As of right now the MLB is offering their fans the ability to buy cardboard cutouts of themselves to place in the stands for a more visually appealing game.
Initial pictures of the new NBA fan format has a lot of individuals online criticizing the “dystopian” aspect of having what looks like a giant zoom meeting going on during basketball games, however, during uncertain times finding new ways to enjoy normal past times is what we all have to adjust to.