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Wednesday, April 17, 2024
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The NBA Wants You to Watch Games With Creators

  • Podcasters and creators offer a 'ManningCast'-inspired twist to NBA games.
  • Live streams and community interaction redefine how fans experience basketball.
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA is turning to a select group of content creators to provide more ways for fans to watch basketball games.

This initiative, reminiscent of the “ManningCast” broadcasting style, will have NBA League Pass integrated into Playback, a new creator platform. NBA League Pass subscribers will have the chance to interact with popular podcasters, personalities, and creators during live games on the platform.

Rather than sticking to the conventional play-by-play commentary, fans can watch games accompanied by the insights and commentary of figures like Gilbert Arenas, the hosts of “No Dunks,” “Dunc’d On,” and others.

“It’s the barber shop,” Arenas aptly described the interactive experience. “It’s how we watch it with our friends.”

The NBA’s decision to embrace content creators aligns with the shifting media consumption landscape, particularly among the digitally native younger generation of sports fans . 

This approach coincides with the rise of alternative broadcasts (alt-casts) as an increasingly important complement to traditional sports viewing. For instance, the “ManningCast” consistently attracted over 1 million viewers last year, underscoring the growing interest in creator-centric content.

RJ Halperin, the CEO and co-founder of Playback, highlighted this emergent behavior among young internet-savvy sports fans, describing it as a trend toward “creator-centric communities.” These online sports micro-communities are often led by creators or multiple creators who engage and interact with their audience.

Preliminary testing during the previous season revealed a noteworthy statistic: fans who engaged with games through the platform doubled their weekly viewing hours. This surge in interest demonstrates a burgeoning appetite for immersive, interactive content experiences.

“This collaboration will help us reach and engage new fans and develop an even greater sense of community around the live-game experience,” said NBA head of social, digital, and original content Andrew Yaffe.

The NBA’s foray into content creators comes at a time of uncertainty for the traditional regional sports network model. This strategic shift enables the league to tap into a diverse array of voices and perspectives, enhancing the appeal of its streaming service.

Some, such as the creators of the “No Dunks” podcast, take a “ManningCast” approach, reacting to the game but also bantering with fans and each other. Others, such as Nate Duncan of “Dunc’d On,” seek to offer a more intense, engaged watching experience than most play-by-play announcers.

Arenas wants to use the platform to delve into NBA history and get inside players’ decision-making process.

“For someone like me, this is groundbreaking,” Arenas said. “You get to put the fans and even the media into the minds of what people are doing [on the court].” Arenas discussed bringing in ex-players such as Scottie Pippen, Rasheed Wallace, and Brandon Jennings to replay and discuss their most iconic moments.

Playback’s technology merges live streaming with creators’ commentary and community interaction, creating a comprehensive first-screen experience for viewers. 

This aligns with the preferences of a younger demographic well-versed in creator-led, interactive platforms like Twitch and YouTube Live. Those two worlds came together earlier this month when YouTube star MrBeast struck a jersey patch deal with the Charlotte Hornets.

“Community is literally everything when it comes to our brand,” explains J.E. Skeets of “No Dunks.” “Some of them have been around so long that they feel a part of the show. It’s just us kicking it, right? It’s like literally talking to us as if we were in the bar, and we’re just watching the game that’s up on the screen.”

Because League Pass offers many games, creators are not bound to a single broadcast and can channel-surf at will.

“If you’re an announcer, you’re stuck here,” Arenas said. “I get to roam.”

And the NBA could just be the beginning.

“We focused on the NBA for a variety of different reasons, but we think it’s our first major foray into the space and something we’re hoping to build on from there,” said Halperin. “It’s safe to say that if you can think of any league with a direct consumer offering, we’ve started conversations with them.”

Playback, backed by Khosla Ventures, also wants to partner with media networks such as ESPN, TNT, regional sports networks, and team-focused streaming services.

What’s beginning with a single league could quickly become a widespread platform for communities to watch together. 

Or, as Arenas puts it: “I think it’s going to be the evolution of how we watch sports.”

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