When you tune into a National Basketball Association game after the league restarts its season on July 30 following a shutdown during the pandemic, things will look a little different. There won’t be empty stands and fake crowd noises like we saw this week at the season openers for Major League Baseball. Instead the NBA will invite fans to attend virtually, displaying their real-time heads in the stands using massive screens and Microsoft software.
The social-distanced fan experience, which the NBA and Microsoft announced Friday, will be displayed on 17-foot screens installed on the game court, designed to reproduce the look of otherwise standard stadium seating. Microsoft will use its Teams software’s new Together Mode to pipe the faces of up to 300 fans into the “seats.” The fans will need to have special tickets to participate.
“Our goal is to create an enjoyable and immersive experience where fans can engage with each other and maintain a sense of community as we restart the season under these unique and challenging circumstances,” Sara Zuckert, NBA Head of Next Gen Telecast, said in a statement.
The NBA’s digital fan project marks the latest way we’re turning to technology to help bridge the forced distance we’ve all kept as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 15.5 million people and killed more than 634,000 patients since it was first detected in December. Apps such as Microsoft’s Teams, Zoom, Google Meet and Slack have become essential tools for businesses, schools and families attempting to work and communicate amid that have swept the globe.