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NBA’s AR tech lets fans add themselves into live games

Full body 3D avatars will mimic the action of real-life NBA players.

20 February 2023 Steve McCaskill

Getty Images

  • NBA outlines plans for more personalisation
  • All-Star Game is now a tech showcase for the league

Fans will be able to insert a 3D avatar of themselves into a live National Basketball Association (NBA) game as part of a series of planned updates to the league’s official application and streaming service.

Supporters can use their smartphone camera to create a 360-degree full body scan that generates a 3D avatar which then replaces one of the players on court. The avatar will then replicate the movements and reactions of that player in real-time, making it appear as though it is the user passing the ball or scoring three-pointers.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver showed off the augmented reality (AR) powered technology at the NBA All-Star Tech Summit in Salt Lake City, creating an avatar of broadcaster Ahmad Rashad and superimposing him on Utah Jazz player Talen Horton-Tucker.

Personalisation is the priority for the NBA, which detailed a series of new additions, including a wider selection of alternate languages, celebrity commentary feeds, more advanced graphics and camera angles, and the ability to transport the game to alternate locations. Integrated betting is also planned, potentially unlocking a new revenue stream for the league and its sportsbook partners.

Technology is a major component of the NBA All-Star Game, which provides a high-profile platform to showcase innovation away from a competitive setting and in the build up to the event. In addition to a dedicated technology event, this year’s exhibition saw the debut of new 5G and virtual reality (VR) fan engagement initiatives, as well as a new ‘shared reality’ partnership with Cosm.

SportsPro says…

The social media reaction to the NBA’s new feature spoke volumes. For years, rights holders and broadcasters have pushed the idea of second screen technologies and immersive experiences, claiming it is the future of sport and that fans demand it. Yet, too many of these initiatives have felt technologically primitive or ill-conceived.

But not this. Here was something that genuinely made fans go ‘wow’. The ability to insert yourself into a game might seem gimmicky at first but it will have genuine appeal to fans, at least on social media. And there’s no telling where the technology will go next once it has gained traction.

The NBA’s relaunched global app and common ID platform mean it is well placed to take advantage of changing trends, and its new personalisation options reflect where the industry is going.

Streaming platforms cannot be just a relay of a linear broadcast and the NBA’s planned graphical, audio, and camera options will allow fans to control their viewing experience. Meanwhile, the integration of in-play betting will become the norm.

The NBA is one of the most technologically progressive leagues in world sport and has again showed it has no intention of ceding that reputation.

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