The NBA will use artificial intelligence and a tap-to-cheer app feature to help fans stuck at home get in the game
Fans won’t be allowed in the NBA bubble to cheer their favorite teams on. It is a bubble, after all.
But knowing what a difference their support can make (home court advantage, anyone?) the NBA is proposing a few solutions: a tap-to-cheer app and video technology that will teleport their faces court-side from the comfort of their homes.
“It’s obviously very different for the players and it’s different for the fans watching at home. I mean, in this sport — like a lot of others — there’s that home court advantage, that six-man. It’s the roar of the crowd, the boos of the crowd,” said NBA commissioner Adam Silver Wednesday on CNN with Wolf Blitzer. “We are trying to replicate that to a certain extent without piping in obvious crowd noise.”
The moves are just some of the ways professional sports leagues are grappling with the absence due to the coronavirus pandemic. The MLB announced similar cheering technology ahead of its return-to-play last week — “Cheer at the Ballpark” allows fans to cheer, boo or clap from their couches.
On both the NBA and the WNBA app, there is now a tap to cheer option, which would allow fans to virtually cheer for their favorite teams. At the end of the game, the total cheers are tallied and shown on a scoreboard. At the end of the season, the fans from teams with top three total taps will be invited to participate in a virtual roundtable with that team’s players, the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream — which started their season last week — said.
And Microsoft Teams, Silver explained to Blitzer, has a mode that would actually show fans on arena screens on the sidelines, allowing players to see their images courtside.
“We are excited to partner with Microsoft to virtually incorporate NBA fans into our season restart,” said Sara Zuckert, the NBA’s Head of Next Gen Telecast, in a blog post on Microsoft’s website. “This unique live game experience will allow fans to maintain a sense of community as they watch their favorite teams and players.”
The company said each game court would feature 17-foot-tall LED screens wrapping around three sides of the arena that show 300 cheering fans ported in using Teams’ “Together Mode.” The product uses artificial intelligence to “bring people together into a shared background like a conference room, coffee shop, or arena,” it said.
It’s still unclear what kind of difference this technology will make in the overall atmosphere of a sporting match, though.
Other countries have also tried their hand at similar tech — like in Japan, where Yamaha has developed a “Remote Cheerer powered by Sound UD” system that would broadcast cheers, boos and chants from users’ homes to the stadium.
Not every attempt has been successful, though.
In South Korea, FC Seoul was fined 100 million Korean won (around $81,000) after being accused of placing sex dolls in its stands to add to the atmosphere during a closed match.