If NBA games resume this season — and possibly into the start of next season — there will be no live fans in attendance at the games.
However, there could be virtual fans.
The league is looking into this, according to a couple of recent statements, including one from the Bucks’ Chief Marketing Officer.
What could an NBA game with no fans be like? Bucks CMO Dustin Godsey on today's SportsPro webinar:
"I think you're going to see some opportunities w/ virtual fans & whether there's screens in the stands that are piping in fans, everything feels like it's on the table right now."
— Diamond Leung (@diamond83) May 13, 2020
The idea is to make it look like there are fans in the arena or stadium for the broadcast, and all the major networks that carry sports are considering it, reports Andrew Marchand at the New York Post.
ESPN, Fox, NBC, CBS and Turner Sports, according to sources, have experimented with the idea of using virtual reality to enhance the at-home viewing experience, by superimposing realistic-looking fans onto screens.
The idea is in its infancy and there is a mixture of opinions toward it, but it is something the networks are playing with as fan-less games appear to be the immediate reality.
That seems… odd. And maybe a little off, although it would be interesting to see what it would look like.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has been open to experimenting on ways to expand and improve the broadcast experience and bring fans more into the game. This restart of the league could give him some openings to do just that.
Adam Silver turns hotel ballroom into the United Center, with an assist from Bill Murray at NBA All-Star Tech Summit in Chicago. pic.twitter.com/F4cpUmVhvU
— NBA (@NBA) February 14, 2020
“It’s well-known that on one hand we’re celebrated by some because we have such a young fan base, but that young fan base is disconnecting from pay television in record numbers, and by disconnecting, not just simply not subscribing to cable or so-called cutting the cord, they’re not watching traditional paid television the way they used to,” Silver said during his All-Star weekend press conference. “They’re watching over-the-top streaming services. They’re watching screens, but it’s not essentially pay TV.
“So the good news for the league is that, when we look at all other data points, particularly what we see in social media, what we see in terms of distribution of highlights and general chatter around our games, we’ve never been more popular. But we haven’t found a way to connect those young fans to our broadcast through whatever platform they’re going to be delivered.”
Silver sees the problem as ultimately fixable.
Whether virtual fans are a part of that is another question entirely.