Jun 23, 2020

NBA Innovation: How to Go Back to Play Post-COVID-19

Cameron Weinert

Cameron Weinert

NBA Innovation: How to Go Back to Play Post-COVID-19

The current COVID-19 pandemic has impacted nearly every facet of life. Restaurants look different, concert halls are empty, and sports have been almost non-existent. However, as the country begins to re-open, professional sports leagues are beginning to consider what it would look like for games to begin again.

This is good timing since sports fans are craving live competition. Last month, The Match II between Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady became the most watched golf-event in cable history. Bundesliga’s return to play saw ratings increase 725% when compared to pre-COVID ratings. The market is ready for live sports.

Along these lines, I was recently listening to a sports podcast that discussed the NBA’s return to play. The hosts were discussing all of the variables that would need to be figured out before the games could be broadcasted. Some of their questions included:

  • Would players be mic’d up?

  • Would crowd noise be pumped in?

  • How much should the broadcasters talk?

Throughout their discussion, it became clear that these variables were all or nothing decisions. To which I started to wonder, do all of these questions really need to be solved before the first tipoff?

If we look at those few competitions that have occurred over the past six weeks, it’s clear that there is a large audience who is willing to watch competitive sports. So rather than spending so much time guessing what the user experience should be and limit the ability to change, the NBA and broadcasting companies such as ESPN and Turner Sports, should adopt a data-driven, iterative approach when thinking about the return of the games. Initial data gathering will allow the companies and organizations to consistently gather user feedback before and during the league’s restart.

This approach will allow fans the ability to watch live sporting events, while also providing broadcasting companies the opportunity to continually improve the viewing experience.

Capture Data Through User Research Sprints

Before games even begin, the NBA can quickly gather data from user research sprints, helping them answer the viewer experience questions they’re currently only asking themselves.

These sprints will provide the decision makers with a wide range of data from a large segment of their audience. For example:

  • Would listening to player conversations enhance the viewing experience?

  • How would you address the lack of crowd noise/stadium production noise?

  • Are there any camera angles you wish the production team would use?

  • Would you want to have a broadcaster or just let the sounds of the game hold your attention?

Another benefit of user research is that it can provide new ideas that may not have been originally considered. By crowdsourcing solutions to address the user experience, not only will the production of the games align with audience desires, but the audience will feel a sense of ownership of the production and will be more likely to tune in.

Iterate Potential Solutions

The first tip-off of the restart to the NBA’s season should not be the end of the league’s user research activities. In fact, at this point, true user testing will have only just begun. As individuals watch the various games, they will develop opinions based on what has enhanced or distracted from the viewing experience.

This is the opportunity for significant data-driven iteration. ESPN, Turner Sports, and the NBA will have the ability to collect real-time data from fans and in turn, adapt their production strategies.

Some of these new solutions may provide additional revenue streams for these companies, as 86% of customers are willing to pay up to 25% more for a better experience. Pay-per-view options, in-app experiences, and other technologies can be utilized to bring new solutions for game watching into the living rooms of sports fans, providing a greater overall viewing experience.

The Return to Play

By utilizing a data-driven, iterative approach to restarting the NBA, the league officials and broadcasting companies can bring competition back sooner and provide viewers with an experience that has been created by the fans, for the fans.

If you have any questions about leveraging your data for innovation, please reach out to us at

Conversation Icon

Contact Us

Ready to achieve your vision? We're here to help.

We'd love to start a conversation. Fill out the form and we'll connect you with the right person.

Searching for a new career?

View job openings