NBA Takes A VR Jump

NBA Takes A VR Jump
January 7, 2017
The NextVR cameras get set to go into action filming a San Antonio Spurs-Sacramento Kings NBA game last October at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, Calif. GARRETT ELLWOOD / NBAE VIA GETTY IMAGES FILES


Sorting out the major winners and losers of this week — with a bottom-line twist — in the world of sports:


Bulls of the Week


The rapid rise of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technology is arguably the single most important sport business storyline in the new year. It’s too bad, then, that the Toronto Raptors picked their debut on virtual reality TV Tuesday night to leave their vaunted offence behind at the hotel in an embarrassing 110-82 loss at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs.


The game was the 11th virtual reality telecast in a 25-game package the NBA is using as the first North American professional team sport to offer its fans a customized VR experience at home. The NBA partnership with virtual reality broadcaster NextVR offers one game each week to subscribers of the NBA League Pass package, with early priority being given to fans owning Samsung Gear VR headsets and smartphones.


The VR telecasts strive to recreate the in-venue experience, providing dance-team performances, mascot dunks and other fun and games during what would otherwise be commercial breaks on regular TV.

Given the cost of equipment, it will take some time to catch on, but it represents another win for fans choosing to watch in the comfort of their living rooms. In what is inherently a case of NBA VR TV competing against its own in-arena product, it will be interesting to see what is done to continue to make actually attending games worth the ticket prices, parking, concession prices and travel time.


Watch for enhancements in AR, VR and other interactive added value and customer service technology at arenas and stadiums around the world. If not, the option of watching at home will win every time.


LeBron James and the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers will be in the VR spotlight this coming Tuesday night against the Utah Jazz while the Raptors make their second and final VR TV appearance Feb. 14 against the Chicago Bulls.

Bears of the Week


When the Detroit Red Wings jacked up ticket prices for the playoffs nine years ago, they were met by more than 2,000 empty seats at Joe Louis Arena and saw their then-NHL record of consecutive home game sellouts snapped at 452 in the first game of the playoffs on April 7, 2007.


That case study is instructive as we head into a new year where ticket pricing has come under more heavy scrutiny and fire than ever before.


That’s true for both regular season offerings this NHL season — where after more than a decade of continuous sellouts in every market but Ottawa, only three of the seven Canadian-based franchises (Montreal, Toronto and Winnipeg) are packing their houses to 100 per cent capacity — and special events. For instance, the just-completed IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship and last fall’s World Cup of Hockey made almost as many headlines for unsold tickets and empty seats as the on-ice games.


There are multiple reasons why demand did not meet supply in either Toronto or Montreal at this year’s world juniors, but chief among them is pricing that pushed tickets beyond the realm of affordability for grassroots hockey fans. As they say, you can only go to the well so many times.


The Sport Market on TSN 1040 rates and debates the bulls and bears of sport business. Join Tom Mayenknecht Saturday from 7 to 11 a.m. for a behind-the-scenes look at the sport business stories that matter most to fans.

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