As the National Basketball Association season enters the NBA Playoffs, I’m impressed with the fast and furious adoption of Immersive Reality experiences that add joy to the fan experience. This focus on the fan emotions will continue to have impressive impacts to the business of basketball for years to come.

When companies use augmented reality and virtual reality well to support their strategic goals, lovable products and experiences are often the outcome. The NBA is a case in point.

The NBA was recently named as one of Fast Company’s 50 most innovative companies. As Fast Company noted, the NBA has set records for attendance and global fan engagement by executing on a strategy of extending the courtside experience through digital. And here is where immersive reality experiences such as AR and VR come into play. The NBA applies immersive reality to create lovable fan experiences beyond courtside, as these examples show:

Augmented Reality Makes Fans Participants

During the 2017-18 season, the NBA introduced an augmented reality app that allows fans to play the popular Pop-a-Shot arcade game in any setting. With the NBA’s app and a mobile device, fans can overlay a basketball court into their living rooms and use their iPhones to try to shoot as many baskets as possible within 30 seconds. Fans can track their performance using a global leaderboard.

The NBA borrowed the idea from the Cleveland Cavaliers, which earlier in the year launched an AR app for fans to practice taking virtual shots inside Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena, where the team plays. The Cavaliers incorporated the app into in-stadium contests where fans could try to shoot virtual baskets from their seats.

Virtual Reality Extends the Courtside Experience

In 2016, the NBA became the first professional sports league to stream weekly live games in VR. Fans willing to pay $200 for the NBA League Pass and get access to Samsung Gear VR headsets were treated to a you-are-there surround experience while sacrificing none of the content (such as the shot clock and up-to-date scores) that viewers could get without VR. But the NBA did not rest on its laurels. For the 2017-18 season, the NBA made it possible for fans to watch the entire season in VR. In addition, to attract fans who might not be ready to commit to the League Pass, the NBA made the VR experience available by the drink.

The next step for the NBA to make game watching more immersive is to implement augmented reality. The league recently announced it is partnering with Magic Leap to use Magic Leap’s headsets to overlay immersive content into real-world settings. Here’s how Recode described what’s coming:

The arrangement means that users will be able to watch some NBA content, like classic games or highlights, once Magic Leap launches its AR headset. People wearing the glasses will be able to see multiple screens overlaid onto the real world, “pin” those screens to a wall like a giant movie projector, or watch them as they walk around. You could watch an NBA basketball game on one screen, for example, while getting live stats or social media updates on another. You won’t be able to watch live NBA games with Magic Leap at launch, though that could change. The hope is that someday, you might watch an NBA game play out in 3-D right on your dining room table.

“Eventually, the game could be available streaming on your coffee table as though you were a giant looking into the arena from above,” said Jeff Marsilio, the NBA’s senior vice president of global media distribution. “Those are some ideas, those are things that we’re working towards. [They’re] not quite ready but actually more possible than you might think.”

The NBA is not just experimenting with immersive reality for the sake of experimenting. The NBA is supporting a business need: engaging fans in a world where professional sports competes with video games, music streaming, and a host of other 24/7 sources of content to distract fans.

If you are interested in exploring how immersive reality can support your business, contact us and download Moonshot’s The Executive Guide to Immersive Reality. We’re eager to help you create lovable products and experiences.