NBA, NHL detail in-arena plans ahead of restarts

The NBA basketball league has detailed a number of in-venue enhancements ahead of the resumption of games this week, while the NHL ice hockey competition has also provided more information on how its hub cities will be set up as it prepares for its own return to action.

All remaining games of the NBA season will take place at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. The season resumes with a double-header on Thursday as the Los Angeles Lakers face the Los Angeles Clippers, and Utah Jazz face the New Orleans Pelicans.

All games will be played behind closed doors but the NBA will invite more than 300 fans to appear live on the ‘Michelob Ultra Courtside’ 17-foot video boards surrounding the court for each fixture.

Fans will be able to digitally interact throughout the game using Microsoft’s ‘Together mode’ through a virtual experience that will be seen on broadcasts and in the venue. The NBA struck a multi-year deal with Microsoft in April, with the deal designed to redefine the in-arena and at-home fan experience.

The new experience is the first initiative to go live as part of the NBA’s partnership with Microsoft and will give fans the feeling of sitting next to one another without leaving their homes. The virtual experience will be presented by Michelob Ultra, the official beer of the NBA.

The NBA has also teamed up with broadcast partners ESPN and Turner Sports to reposition more than 30 cameras closer to the court to provide fans with never-before-seen camera angles. Microphones will also be placed around the court to capture enhanced sounds, while in-arena DJs and announcers will be used to try and replicate the traditional game-day sound.

In addition, viewers will be given the chance to impact visual effects at the arena through a virtual cheering experience available through the NBA app, on NBA.com and by using team hashtags on Twitter.

The virtual cheering will be reflected on in-venue video boards through graphics and animations. Other initiatives will include TikTok challenges and Snapchat’s ‘ground segmentation’ augmented reality technology.

Meanwhile, the NHL has provided more details on how its hub cities of Edmonton and Toronto will be utilised as the league returns to action on Saturday.

The NHL confirmed earlier this month that the Canadian cities will act as centralised hubs, with Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena and Edmonton’s Rogers Place to host as many as three games a day.

The NHL will carry out daily COVID-19 testing, with results to be made available within 24 hours. Clear has also developed an app linked with a touchless health-screening kiosk to streamline symptom and temperature checks in Toronto and Edmonton, with more than 60 kiosks to be set up in both cities.

The NHL will use three hotels in Edmonton within walking distance of Rogers Place to house all players, coaches and staff. Two hotels will be used in Toronto, one at Exhibition Place and one near Scotiabank Arena.

Each location will have a fencing system running through it to keep the bubble secure and away from the general public, with 97 security guards and health ambassadors in Toronto and 125 in Edmonton.

Restaurants will be set up within the secure zones, while the layout in the hub cities will also allow for designated spaces for activities such as movie theatres, player lounges, patio decks and recreational space. BMO Field, home of Major League Soccer’s Toronto FC, will be available for players to use.

No fans will be in attendance and the NHL will use video, audio and lighting to ensure every game looks different, with club-specific songs, horns and music compilations to be used. EA Sports will provide some crowd noise during broadcasts.

Steve Mayer, the NHL’s senior executive vice-president and chief content officer, said: “Rather than taking advantage of virtual fans or cardboard cutouts or putting teddy bears in the stands, we’ve decided that we’re going to do something that really caters to the fans at home, the fans that are enjoying the television experience. We want to educate them. We want to entertain them. We want to visually excite them.”

Image: ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex