National Basketball Association (NBA) boss, Adam Silver, wants to bring basketball to Europe, but he knows how hard it will be to crack our "soccer"-loving culture and get fans accustomed to slam dunks instead of goals. Investing in technology that helps us understand the sport is the only way to go, Silver says.

Potential fans in Europe may be put off by basketball beause they don't understand it, and “right now, the commentators have to talk to the ‘average’ fan”, Silver says.

New York Knicks were defeated by the Milwaukee Bucks last night at the 02 arena ©Flickr/Chad Cooper
New York Knicks were defeated by the Milwaukee Bucks last night at the 02 arena ©Flickr/Chad Cooper

But with better technology, people can learn more about the rules and regulations and start to engage with the sport.

“Not everyone has the luxury of sitting next to someone who has real expertise so we need to find a way of using technology so fans have that in their ear.

“In a way that’s what is so special about unlimited bandwidth and multiple channels thanks to the internet.”

Data is key

The NBA currently uses a host of technologies, including twelve different real-time camera feeds straight from the basketball courts to its central ‘replay centre’, and player geo-location tagging, which lets fans track every player’s move.

Fans can find statistics all the way back to 1996, interactive ‘shot’ charts, leaderboards and video of every play since 2012, alongside coach commentary and the ability to see what footage the referees have to hand on the website too.

This investment in data crunching technology was in part, a reaction to sports broadcasters that were fans first destination for match statistics. The association needed to claw this traffic back to their own site to increase fan engagement and drive revenue.

By acquiring analytics company STATS, the NBA was able to create a real-time game tracker on its Microsoft SQL database. The system could track players and analyse their performance data, but supported just a handful of people.

Two years ago, it put the platform on SAP’s Hana database, which  the German vendor promised would scale to millions. In just three months, the real-time tracking, video playback and stats charts went live on the NBA’s site in February 2013. Traffic doubled in six months, and the NBA website still gets up to 2,000 concurrent requests at a time - all without falling over.

Experimenting with natural language queries will be the next step, Steve Hellmuth, the team’s operation and technology boss revealed, speaking at the Leaders Meet Innovation event in Central London yesterday. The association is working with SAP to allow fans to ask questions about players and matches and get information back immediately through their phones.

Eyes on the future

In addition, it also has its eyes on the next big tech gadget, NBA boss Silver said.

Speaking ahead of the New York Knicks VS Milwaukee Bucks’ game in the O2 arena, Silver said that a collaboration with notorious virtual reality game Oculus Rift could be on the cards.

“In some ways, it might be better than courtside experience because you are on the court. You are truly immersed and basketball players will be running toward you.”

He added that the firm was keen to speak to developers and entrepreneurs with new ideas to engage fans.

“There are so many young technological men and women who love sports. We want to see what is on the market, and we are happy to license our footage on a test-basis”.

Aside from marketing, data analytics is used for player performance and improved scouting within the basketball teams - something the sports industry is beginning to welcome.

European football teams, including Germany's, are beginning to track its players and their performance, although the FA has not cleared the use of geo-tagging during official matches.

Former England football player Phil Neville recently admitted that technology was one of the German teams best tools for winning the World Cup last year. He said: “Data is so important and obviously helped with the German national team. I know about how they are progressing, and that players are becoming more digitally aware. You can see how the German team was set up - so well organised and they knew everything about the opposition and themselves.”

Formula 1 teams also use beacons to analyse speeds, tracks and car faults in the run-up to a grid.