The NBA resumed the 2019-20 season on July 30 (July 31) amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The league will be hosting all games at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Players and other employees are staying at the NBA bubble to prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, for health safety reasons, no fans will be allowed to attend the games. To make up for the absence of an audience, Microsoft and NBA have teamed up for an NBA virtual fan sign up, where screens of fans will be displayed on the screen.
The NBA Has Virtual Fans In The Stand pic.twitter.com/LkiIPqeiZT— 2Cool2Blog (@2Cool2BIog) July 30, 2020
As a result of the Microsoft-NBA partnership, fans will be shown on a 17-foot LED screen, which has been placed courtside at the NBA bubble. Along with showing fans on the screen, they will also remove their background, making sure the virtual fans blend in and feel more real. The league and Microsoft will ensure that fans who misbehave or are abusive will be kicked out with an eject button.
Any fan can sign up to become a virtual fan. The fans will be expected to join 30 minutes before tip-off and will be allowed to cheer for their team. Teams and the league are encouraging fans to cheer for the team while wearing jerseys and pretending that they are at a regular game.
Fans will be required to sign in at least 30 minutes before the game begins through the Microsoft Teams NBA feature. After they log in, fans do not need to be around for all pregame events. However, Microsoft can then identify any issues fans have during the 30-minute period.
Fans are encouraged to wear their team's gear – jerseys, shirts and hats. Fans have also been asked to not wear items that could disturb anyone's viewing experience.
At a time only fans who have signed a waiver can broadcast themselves during the game. If fans sign up in advance, they will be allowed to switch spots during the game.
Just like a regular game, fans can leave their computer for some time like when people use the concession stand or restrooms. However, fans are requested to return back after a short interval to avoid any technical issues.
ICYMI: This season, the @NBA is teaming up with @MicrosoftTeams to reimagine a live game experience.— Microsoft 365 (@Microsoft365) July 27, 2020
With 17-foot-tall screens, fans will fill the "stands" and players will see fans' real-time reactions to their slam dunks 🏀: https://t.co/bJQIc8HcNJ pic.twitter.com/gFnzWF02QC
In her statement to CNet, NBA Head of Next Gen Telecast Sara Zuckert stated that their 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.” Jared Sparto, head of Microsoft 365, also spoke about the new fan experience being the first NBA-Microsft production product. He added that it will give players an opportunity to see the fans' real-time reaction.
To enhance the experience, ESPN and Turner Sports will work on new camera angles for fans viewing from home, including microphones on the court which will pick up sneaker squeaks and the ball's dribble at a regular game. Fans will be allowed to cheer virtually through the NBA app, which will appear on the video boards during the game with various animations.
The NBA and Microsft signed a multi-year deal earlier this year. As per the deal, Microsoft is NBA's official AI, cloud and laptop partner. This is the first example of their partnership and an indication of what could be in store for the future. NBA will also be seen using Microsoft’s Azure platform to broadcast live and on-demand basketball games paired with personalised content.