NBA provides EME rights partners more prime-time games for restart
By Tariq Saleh
North American basketball’s NBA is providing its broadcast partners in the Europe and Middle East with more prime-time games for the remainder of the regular season, which resumed last night, and hopes fans can be “more immersed than ever before.”
Narrow wins for Utah Jazz and LA Lakers over New Orleans Pelicans and LA Clippers, respectively, finally got the 2019-20 season back on track following a four-month hiatus caused by the coronavirus pandemic, with all games being played in a ‘bubble’ inside the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida.
The playoffs will start in August, with the Finals to be completed by 12 October.
With no spectators in attendance, the NBA is seeking to increase its global fan engagement levels with more games to be shown in prime-time to suit audiences in EME and with broadcast innovations through its digital offerings, such as OTT subscription service NBA League Pass.
All of the league’s broadcast partners in EME, totaling 90 countries and territories, are taking additional prime-time games as part of the restart.
In an interview with Sportcal, Ralph Rivera, the managing director of NBA EME, said: “Broadcasters will have access to more games and importantly for our region, given the time zone differences, more games in prime-time. Over the next two weeks, we will have more games in prime-time than ever before.”
Pay-television giant Sky, the NBA’s broadcast partner in the UK, is to air 33 games with tip-off times before midnight in the country, which includes games on NBA TV International which will be inserted into the broadcast.
A total of 24 of these games during the restart will begin prior to 10pm local time, with the earliest games at 6pm.
Sky will also stream a free game every Saturday in prime-time on its YouTube channel.
In other key locations in the region, Sky Italia, the pay-television broadcaster in Italy, will air 26 prime-time games, while international subscription broadcaster BeIN Sports will show 29 in France.
Prior to the suspension of the season, the NBA was scheduled to show 48 regular season games in prime-time in Europe as part of its ‘NBA Saturdays’ and ‘NBA Sundays’ campaign to further its reach and engagement in the region.
The NBA this week extended its long-standing rights deal in Israel with pay-TV company The Sports Channel by a further five years and as part of the renewal, the broadcaster will offer 54 live 'seeding games', including 17 starting at 7.30pm local time, the most-ever prime-time games in Israel in a two-week period.
Enhanced coverage will also be delivered by the NBA's US broadcast partners ESPN and Turner Sports.
To complement its live coverage, the league also this week unveiled plans for in-arena and broadcast enhancements which will include more than 30 cameras and microphones positioned closer to the court to provide fans with new camera angles and enhanced sounds during games.
Through recent partnerships with technology giant Microsoft and beer brand Michelob Ultra, more than 300 NBA fans will be invited to appear virtually on ‘Michelob Ultra Courtside’, a 17-foot digital video board surrounding the court, for each game, while those fans will also have the opportunity to digitally interact with each other throughout the game using Microsoft’s ‘together mode’ to create a virtual experience.
Rivera said: “One of the key things that every league has looked at is what to do to provide an experience where you do not have the fans in the arena and we have had an opportunity to think this through and look at what the other leagues are doing and put in some innovations of our own.
“The number of camera angles will be unprecedented and getting those different views of the games, not just the court but behind-the-scenes as well, will be super engaging for our fans.
“The innovations give fans an opportunity to be as or more immersed than ever before and for our region, the fact that we are going to have more prime time games than ever before obviously provides more opportunity for people to engage both in terms of the technology that we are making available, plus the fact that time zone wise we will have more games.
“This is a unique situation and hopefully the only time in history that we are going to see our season play out the way that it has, so I believe that fans will be engaged by that.”
For several years, the NBA has been at the forefront of sports leagues which have embraced technology and has continually looked to expand its digital proposition.
This led the league to creating NBA Digital in collaboration with Turner Sports to explore ways to enhance viewing experiences.
Rivera believes having that strategic digital focus prior to the pandemic has allowed the NBA to now introduce further innovations earlier than expected.
He said: “The NBA has been a leader in terms of embracing technology overall and digital. In particular, League Pass for us has been there for quite some time and we have put a lot into our next generation experiences and if anything what Covid-19 has done is accelerated the digital adoption curve.
“So the things that we are doing are things that we have always been preparing for but it has just been accelerated. When everything returns to ‘normal’ these digital innovations that we have accelerated are just going to be a normal part of the experiences that we deliver to our fans.”
With the ongoing uncertainty surrounding Covid-19, coupled with the 2020-21 NBA season provisionally slated to begin in December, just two months after this campaign concludes, it is likely to have an effect on the league’s plans to stage global games next year.
The NBA traditionally plays an annual regular season game in Europe in January and this season held it in Paris for the first time.
Ahead of that game between the Milwaukee Bucks and Charlotte Hornets in the French capital, the NBA announced the game will be played in the city again in 2021 but Rivera admits a decision is still yet to be made if it will go ahead.
He explained: “We have not made a final decision on it, this is obviously something that is very much dependent on what is the state of play in terms of health and safety for players, fans and the overall community.
“One thing that has been apparent is that this [pandemic] changes very quickly and what was true 30 days ago is no longer true today. It is a little bit too early, frankly, for us to make a final decision but that is something that I would say closer to the fall maybe we will be in a better position to assess.”
Meanwhile, the NBA yesterday announced a multi-year partnership with Olympic Entertainment Group, the gaming company in the Baltics.
Under the agreement, OEG’s flagship betting brand OlyBet will serve as the official betting partner of the NBA in the region.
The exclusive partnership, covering Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia, will be promoted in more than 100 casino and retail locations in the region and on OlyBet’s and the NBA’s social and digital channels.
OEG will also become the presenting partner of the NBA’s free-to-play gaming platform, NBA Pick’Em, which will be localised for the region.
In addition, OEG will use official NBA branding across their land-based and digital sports betting offerings throughout the aforementioned countries. OEG and the NBA will also work together on best-in-class practices to protect the integrity of NBA games.