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Volume 22 No. 11
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Tech-based strategies to reshape experience

Cashless transactions could be the norm in arenas around the league.
Photo: Dennis McCoy / Sacramento Business Journal

Picture Las Vegas-style cabana suites and a variety of clubs with augmented reality technology available at your fingertips.


Ponder the possibility of climate-controlled seats that offer you customized video and audio options.

Imagine that, for a fee, virtual reality options will abound, giving you glimpses into team huddles and a seat on the bench.

And leave your cash at home as arena transactions will be mostly digital. Ticketing, food and drink ordering and all other transactions will be conducted through your mobile device or via credit card.

Welcome to the NBA’s in-arena fan experience in 2028.

Smaller, more intimate suite experiences are expected as venues offer more flexible premium-seating options.
Photo: Minnesota Timberwolves

“We will see a lot of reimagined spaces in the buildings,” said Amy Brooks, president of the NBA’s team marketing and business operations division and chief innovation officer. “We can provide more flexibility and drive revenue for the future.”

Premium seating will be a far more flexible offer, with a shift away from the traditional multitude of large suites ringing the inside of arenas to smaller, customized areas.

“I’m not saying suites will be obsolete, but venues will move toward very premium intimate clubs,” said Brett Yormark, CEO of BSE Global, the parent company of the Brooklyn Nets.

Future NBA arena capacities aren’t expected to change much from the 18,000-seat venues built today, but bandwidth inside all arenas will be far greater to allow for faster connectivity.

Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis sees a scenario allowing premium pricing in accordance with the connectivity speed inside specific areas of an arena. The faster the speed, the higher the premium. If you’re a gambler or a gamer, you might be willing to pay more for high-speed real-time data than a casual fan, he said.

Keeping fans engaged with the action on the court will continue to be the goal inside the arena, according to Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer, who by 2028 hopes to be in his fourth season in a new arena in Inglewood.

“My sense is it will become more about the basketball because there are so many other experiences outside the arena,” Ballmer said. “As an owner, do you want people with their heads down in their phones?”

Use of virtual and augmented reality headsets could allow NBA fans in other countries and ticket holders in the upper reaches of arenas to experience courtside views or tour other areas of the venue without leaving their seats.
Photo: Getty Images

But the way fans watch that action on the court is likely to see radical change. Imagine donning a headset to watch the game with a screen of your choosing, whether to follow a favorite player or from other alternative angles. Even from the nosebleed seats, virtual courtside viewing could be available, Brooks said.

“There will be a different level of access in and around the team,” said Scott O’Neil, CEO of Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Philadelphia 76ers. “There will be virtual tours using cameras to walk around during the game. Technology and connectivity will completely transform how we experience it.”

State-regulated gambling will also become a major staple inside the buildings, whether it’s betting on the next basket, blocked shot or any other in-play wagers. Mobile betting apps will be used to drive in-game wagering. “Mobile sport betting will be ubiquitous,” Yormark said.

Seating high above the court could offer fans an overhead view of action on the floor.
Photo: Getty Images

Even the hardwood could become a more interactive aspect of the in-game experience. 

“The floors will be interactive and dynamic — picture an LED screen on the court,” O’Neil said. “At your seat, it is everything with regard to a completely immersive experience.”

Leonsis even envisions the possibility of cameras built into the playing floor to allow for more camera angles. He also suggests viewing areas could be built high above the floor near center court, calling it “the aspirational seat of the future” that gives fans a bird’s-eye view.