Marketing games for international venues, celebrating the Lunar New Year with Chinese characters on jerseys, or recruiting a global class of players, the National Basketball Association is no stranger to localizing its content. But deepening AI and machine learning technologies promise an approach to its global fan base like never before.
The NBA announced in April that it has made plans to enter a multi-year partnership with Microsoft to create a more personalized, localized experience for its international fan base. But while fans around the world already enjoy watching NBA broadcasts in 47 languages broadcast in 215 countries, the partnership promises fundamental innovations to modernize fan interaction using artificial intelligence and machine learning technology.
One of the ways the alliance will change NBA content is by creating a direct-to-consumer platform on Microsoft Azure, Microsoft’s cloud computing service, which will provide data analytics, computing, storage, and networking that they anticipate will allow them to personalize fan experience “through state-of-the-art machine learning, cognitive search and advanced data analytics solutions,” according to the report.
Analyzing metrics around fan behavior is nothing new for the NBA, but with such data at its fingertips, the NBA-fan relationship may flourish like never before. NBA senior vice-president of direct to consumer Chris Benyarko said about the benefits of machine learning AI curating fan experience, “Instead of the fan having to pick and choose and turn them on or off one by one, the platform is now starting to behave like a game producer, automatically selecting and presenting the game in a different way.”
Deb Cupp, Corporate Vice President of Enterprise and Commercial Industries at Microsoft, said, “The AI eventually learns that I like to learn about stats, so it’s going to start presenting me more information about stats as I go into the game… It’s this experience where instead of just watching a game, it actually has the opportunity to interact in a way that matters to me as that fan.”
With fans in all different time zones who experience the game and consume content in a variety of ways, the NBA will be able to gather a global array of data to bring in new fans and retain old ones. What that will mean for sports remains to be seen, but the machine learning will likely provide invaluable information on fan behavior worldwide and grant the NBA a chance to solidify its place as a premier global sport.