Adam Silver: Empty Arenas Could Improve NBA Broadcasts

May 6, 2020, 2:57 PM | Updated: 3:05 pm
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Vivint Smart Home Arena (Photo: Ben Anderson KSL Sports)
(Photo: Ben Anderson KSL Sports)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The NBA is exploring ways to return to the basketball court. In the meantime, the league is working on improving the broadcast experience. Commissioner Adam Silver joined Qualtrics CEO and Utah resident Ryan Smith to discuss what the future of the NBA might look like. It turns out, empty NBA arenas could improve NBA broadcasts.

“We’ve been thinking about for years,” Silver told Smith on the video chat. “Now that we don’t have fans in the arena it does create some opportunities.”

As the league looks for pathways back to the floor, it does so with the understanding that in-arena fans likely won’t be part of the equation.

A New Broadcast Experience

“Can we create a new experience for the vast majority of people that are watching through some form of technology?” Silver asked.

The NBA has roughly 1.8 billion fans who follow the league through social media platforms. Meanwhile, NBA arenas hold on average 19,000 fans. Meaning, the overwhelming majority of fans consume games in ways other than in person.

“Don’t get me wrong,” Silver warned, “So much of our experience comes from those vibrant 19,000 person arenas. Cheering and jeering or screaming at officials, it’s all part of the experience.”

Now, the league must figure out a way to recreate that energy for the players in the arena, while improving its broadcast experience.

“Maybe there’s a way where people are interacting with the game […] by doing something on an app,” Silver suggested. “Someway through technology with that immediate feedback to the players,”

The NFL Draft was held in late April featuring fans on a video chat reacting live to the selections. Though it lacked the energy of in-person cheering, it did help replicate the excitement of a live draft.

The NBA is considering piping in audio or video channels of the fans to simulate the in-game experience.

“Imagine if there were huge speakers around the basketball floor so that’s being reflected back to them,” Silver said. “Or maybe there were huge screens around the floor. So rather than looking over the sidelines and seeing fans, they are seeing HD images of fans who are reacting in real-time to the things that are happening.”

The Fan Experience

At the same time, the league may have added options on how empty arenas could improve NBA broadcasts for fans. While viewers have grown used to a few standard camera angles, an empty arena could change that.

“Whether we play in an arena without fans or possibly in a smaller structure,” Silver said, “We can reasonably put cameras anywhere so you may get angles you wouldn’t otherwise get.”

It’s not just visual where fans could experience a difference. Less crowd noise may grant better audio access to the league’s fans.

“We can experiment with audio in different ways than we have in the past,” Silver said. “Whether it’s players mic’d or mics on the sidelines to pick up more of the sounds of the game so you can feel it in a different way.”

While the NBA would prefer to return to business as usual, it won’t let this opportunity go to waste.

“I’m sure this will be the case for a lot of businesses,” Silver said, “[the hiatus] is accelerating things we’re otherwise working on by necessity.

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Adam Silver: Empty Arenas Could Improve NBA Broadcasts