NBA launches new Microsoft Azure platform to enhance fan engagement

Elly Yates-Roberts
By Elly Yates-Roberts on 09 August 2021
NBA launches new Microsoft Azure platform to enhance fan engagement
Unsplash/Markus Spiske

The National Basketball Association (NBA) is using Microsoft Azure to deliver a new direct-to-consumer platform that uses Azure artificial intelligence (AI) and analytics to tailor experiences to individuals’ preferences.

With up to 10 billion interactions each day between fans and the NBA’s various channels, such as on-demand streaming and social media, the organisation wanted to explore how technology could enhance these experiences. 

“We’re trying to recognise the changes in the way fans engage with the game,” said Ken DeGennaro, senior vice president of media operations and technology at the NBA. “For many years, basketball games were very much a one-way presentation focused on television broadcasts. With digital media, it’s more of a bidirectional relationship where fans can engage directly with us and provide feedback simply by using the platform.”

The NBA began working with Microsoft to realise its fan-focused vision.

“Microsoft is a best-in-class company, not only for Azure and its many services, but also for the Microsoft ecosystem of vendors and partners,” said DeGennaro. “The NBA and Microsoft have a shared vision for an exciting direct-to-consumer experience – we bring the basketball knowledge and data, and Microsoft brings the technology products and deep technical expertise.”

The partnership aims to leverage customers’ information to better engage with them and deliver offerings that they want. 

“If a customer buys four shirts – an adult large, an adult medium, and two youth smalls – our marketing offer to them shouldn’t be two tickets to a Tuesday night game,” said DeGennaro. “Four tickets to a Saturday afternoon game would be more appropriate, given what we can infer about that customer having a family. We’ve talked about the internet of things for years, but now it’s all about the internet of behaviors.”

This approach can also be applied to personalising content, for example by providing highlight reels to fans who may be unable to watch games live.  

Among other fan enhancement features, the NBA created NBA CourtOptix. The system uses AI and spatial position information about players and the ball to derive meaningful insights into gameplay. According to Charlie Rohlf, associate vice president of stats technology product development, the NBA hopes to personalise these statistical insights in future so that fans can easily find what they want. 

“There’s a lot of competition out there today for sports and entertainment,” said DeGennaro. “It’s important that we provide fans with experiences that keep them coming back and demonstrate that we really value the time they give us. If you’re going to spend time with the NBA, we’re going to make sure it’s the most frictionless, fun experience it can be. We want to make it very easy to be an NBA fan, and Microsoft is helping us do that.”
 

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