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SALT LAKE CITY — Over one billion people watched at least a portion of an NBA game last season.
Less than one percent of those will get to experience one in an actual arena.
During an address on Thursday at the Qualtrics X4 Summit in Salt Lake City, NBA commissioner Adam Silver talked about how the NBA is trying to replicate that in-game experience for the vast majority of its fans.
Silver can still easily picture the scene when he walked into Madison Square Garden for his first Knicks game as a young boy. He doesn’t remember the score, but he remembers the emotions of the moment, the overwhelming feeling of being in the arena.
“I can almost smell that experience of going there with my dad,” Silver said.
So how can fans have a similar experience away from the arena? By using technology.
“Historically, people watching at home were somewhat isolated because you didn’t know how other Jazz fans were reacting to that play or that coach’s move,” Silver said.
That has all changed now. With social media apps like Twitter and Instagram, there’s more connectivity to the audience outside of the arena than ever before. Fans sitting alone in their homes can experience the joys and heartbreak of the season with other fans all across the globe.
Big plays — and even major fan reactions — go viral, allowing all fans to never really miss a moment.
“You can now at least begin to replicate that experience of being in the arena,” Silver said.
And in some cases, improve on the experience, too.
On Wednesday, LeBron James passed Michael Jordan on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. It was a big moment in NBA history and fans were eager to see it live — but the ones in Staples Center may have missed some things.
First, James had written, “Thank you M.J. 23” on his shoes. And second, his emotional reaction to passing the player he idolized growing up.
“That’s not something you can see, you are not close enough to see that,” said Silver, who admitted he didn’t even know about James’ shoes — which were a specially designed Air Jordan 3 — before seeing them on SportsCenter the next morning.
The NBA is trying to give all their fans an experience like they are sitting in the front row, no matter where they are watching or sitting for games. Silver wants the fans to hear coaches during games, to see how impressive the players are up close, and to feel the excitement of an NBA game — just like he had when he was a young boy.
And he thinks it’s only going to get better.
“It’s the early days of creating that experience,” Silver said.
The NBA commissioner also lauded the efforts of Qualtrics in donating its sponsored jersey patch to 5 for the Fight — a campaign encouraging everyone to give $5 towards the fight against cancer.
The patch, technically, didn’t fit into the established league guidelines because it promoted a charitable cause. But it didn’t take long for Silver to sign off on the idea when he received a phone call from former Larry H. Miller Group CEO Greg Miller to discuss the patch.
“I think we were about 12 words into the conversation when I said, ‘Of course,’” Silver said.
He said the reaction that has come from the patch has been “remarkable.”
“I lost both of my parents to cancer, so it’s a cause near and dear to my heart,” Silver said.