SBD/October 29, 2013/NBA Season Preview

SportVU Tracking System Could Find Reach Beyond Court For NBA, Teams

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Barclays Center was among the last arenas fitted with SportVU cameras
NBA data goes big tonight as Stats LLC’s SportVU technology, a series of cameras used to track every on-court movement, makes its league-wide debut with the start of the ’13-14 NBA season. For Stats, the installation of the motion-tracking system in all NBA arenas marks the turning point in its plans to market the advanced statistics SportVU makes possible. Stats Senior VP/Sports Solutions Brian Kopp said, “This league deal validates what we were doing with the teams, but more importantly, it now really starts the conversation on the media and the business side.” Stats for several years pitched individual franchises on SportVU, which enables teams to capture players’ exact moves on the court through a three-dimensional optical tracking system. SportVU produces a number of stats that go beyond familiar basketball statistics, including distance run, rebound chances and secondary assists (similar to those in hockey). After the Rockets became the first franchise to adopt SportVU in ‘10, the program rapidly gained momentum, with 15 franchises using it last season. But Kopp said that the technology’s exploitation was inhibited as both an analytical and marketing tool by its lack of a complete data set. A player cannot legitimately be called the NBA leader in rebound chances, for example, without data from all NBA games. With the new league-wide deal, SportVU will have its eyes-in-the-sky on every player, every play -- provided Stats can secure the league’s two international regular-season games in London and in Mexico City.

EXPANDED USE: Now the real game can begin, both on-court and off. While teams use the technology chiefly to analyze players, some franchises, the NBA and Stats are looking at multiple potential platforms for the new statistics, from digital media to in-arena uses to broadcasts. Kopp said the company’s data this year “becomes a whole new layer of officially branded NBA stats” on NBA.com. Kopp added that the site would feature several tables with the new data on its stats page. He expects the NBA.com information to be “skinnied down” -- that is, made less complex and more user-friendly -- from the types of data reports provided to teams. NBA Exec VP/Operations & Technology Steve Hellmuth confirmed the SportVU stats will be available online from the beginning of the season. Hellmuth said, “We’ve got people here cranking overtime right now. On NBA TV, the stats will be there from game one.” He added that the data also will be used in features and articles on NBA.com. Hellmuth: “People reading longer articles, it’s becoming rare. We’re really trying to focus on making it as digestible, as easy to reference as a box score.” Hellmuth said SportVU data will be “prominently displayed” on the NBA.com stats page. SAP currently is in the second year of multiyear partnership to run the page and also serves as a league sponsor.

CAVALIER APPROACH: Although franchises new to SportVU had a scant seven weeks to get the hardware installed and get up to speed on the service, Hellmuth said there was “no friction whatsoever with the teams.” He noted team execs are used to working in a world of big data in ticket sales and other areas, so they are comfortable with the idea of needing bigger, better data sets. He added it was not just the stats themselves, but the combination of the numbers and Stats LLC’s program to analyze it, called ICE, that got the league to commit to the deal. One team that quickly found a fan-friendly use for the new SportVU stats is the Cavaliers, who began presenting the data on their scoreboard after joining the program in December 2012. Cavaliers Senior VP/Communications & Broadcasting Tad Carper said while basketball analysis currently remains the main use of the data, the team has its eye on business applications as well. Carper said, “We’ve gone down sort of a two-lane highway on this from the start.” Cavaliers VP/Digital Mike Conley said that the team will continue to seek new uses of the data on the Quicken Loans Arena scoreboard. Conley said, “One of the biggest pieces of kryptonite in this process is to really get all the arenas up to speed on how to parse this data in real time and quickly. … We’re working on creating infrastructure that’s going to be able to take that data and parse it in real time and generate the graphics automatically in-house.” 

AGGRESSIVE PUSH: Carper and the Cavs will continue to use the new stats to try to draw fans away from their TV sets. Carper: “TV and broadcast has become so slick and produced and full of information, it’s a very comfortable space for fans. We’re going to continue to enhance our broadcast, but at the same time, the in-arena experience is something we want to continue to enhance too.” Carper said that potential sponsors have shown interest in specific SportVU stats tracking qualities like speed, durability and distance. Conley notes companies now are much more likely to jump on an innovative idea. He said, “Where in the past, something would need to be in the market for three years before you start to see corporate dollars start to catch up with technology, everybody now is aggressive in wanting to be on the innovation front.” Hellmuth said that the type of stats the Cavaliers use in-arena come out about every 60-90 seconds, and "will also be used potentially in telecasts.” He added while NBA TV staff are “still working on that,” they are “definitely going to be using this data in conjunction with GameTime, our lead highlight show.”

FANTASY ISLAND: Beyond online and broadcast uses, Kopp sees potential for the SportVU data in fantasy gaming, an arena the company is already involved in as creator of the PGA Tour’s fantasy golf games, as well as video games. Kopp notes the NBA2K videogame series is a Stats client for traditional data, but says as the technology becomes more familiar, the SportVU data should enhance the games. Kopp said, “It could be anywhere from just integrating it into the game, like they do some of the box-score data, or it could be the ability to influence how those players perform, based on the data we’re collecting.”
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