The National Basketball Association (NBA) has renewed and expanded its partnership with Yahoo Sports, with the multi-year deal bringing in the web services company’s sister firm, RYOT, to enhance the at-home experience for fans during COVID-19.

The deal was signed ahead of the resumption of the 2019-20 NBA season yesterday (Thursday), with the league using ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex as a hub for its games held behind closed doors.

Yahoo Sports becomes an official marketing partner of the league and RYOT a live virtual reality (VR) production partner during the NBA Restart in Orlando. In an effort to bring an immersive, arena-like experience to fans, RYOT, an innovation studio, will produce live NBA games in VR and transport the physical games taking place at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports to fans at home via their Oculus devices.

More than a dozen live NBA League Pass games will be distributed in VR via Oculus Venues on Oculus Quest and Oculus Go headsets beginning today through to August 14. “RYOT’s powerful VR capabilities will deliver a truly immersive live experience at home, creating a seamless experience between the physical and digital world,” said Guru Gowrappan, CEO of Yahoo Sports’ parent company Verizon Media.

“NBA League Pass in VR is exactly the kind of innovative solution we love to create with our partners.  Working with the NBA to redefine the fan’s experience of the game has amazing implications for the future of sports and entertainment.”

RYOT takes over the NBA League Pass Virtual Reality production rights that had been previously held by NextVR. Meanwhile, the new relationship will also allow Yahoo Sports to engage fans through fantasy and sports betting in unprecedented ways, including the right to create sports betting content and expanding Yahoo Sports’ existing distribution of NBA League Pass, the league’s premium live game subscription product, to include gaming integrations.

The NBA earlier detailed a number of in-venue enhancements ahead of the resumption of games.

Flyers Home Ice

The National Hockey League (NHL) resumes its 2019-20 season tomorrow, with the Philadelphia Flyers claiming a first with the launch of a second-screen viewing experience.

The NHL this month ratified plans to resume play on August 1 at centralised hubs in the Canadian cities of Toronto and Edmonton after the ice hockey league and the NHL Players’ Association gave the green light for a four-year extension of their collective bargaining agreement.

Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena and Edmonton’s Rogers Place will host as many as three games a day with a potential 52 games to be played over nine days during the qualifiers. No fans will be in attendance.

The restart plan marks the first time in history that all Flyers playoff games will be held outside of Philadelphia and without fans. Developed as a companion to NBC Sports Philadelphia and NBC Sports Network game broadcasts, Flyers Home Ice will seek to bring the excitement of watching a Flyers game live at the Wells Fargo Center into fans’ homes. The technology will deliver Flyers in-arena content to simulate the experience of being at the arena for the playoffs.

The full program, designed and orchestrated by the Flyers marketing team, will include elements of the traditional in-arena production. Pre-game features will include the national anthem performed by Lauren Hart, team lineup announcements by Flyers’ PA announcer Lou Nolan, and some new elements created specifically for the 2020 playoffs.

Features throughout the game will include live stat updates similar to those posted on the arena’s centre-hung scoreboard, games hosted by Flyers in-arena host Andrea Helfrich, live polling, surprise special guests, and activities featuring team mascot, Gritty. Tata Consultancy Services has signed on as the presenting sponsor of the service.

Mike Shane, chief business officer for the Flyers and Wells Fargo Center, said: “Flyers Home Ice will allow fans to truly immerse themselves in the game and will serve as a companion to the world-class broadcast delivered by NBC Sports Philadelphia and NBC Sports. The platform will work in seamless concert with the television broadcast.”

Arsenal & Intel Sports

English Premier League football club Arsenal has announced a two-year extension to its partnership with the sports division of US technology company Intel.

Arsenal, along with fellow Premier League clubs Liverpool and Manchester City, partnered with Intel Sports in February 2019. Since that point, Intel Sports has changed the way the club’s 80m-plus digital followers can view the best goals and match highlights online.

Arsenal said Intel True View technology, which allows supporters to freeze match action and view 360-degree replays from a player’s perspective, has driven a 90% uplift in supporters revisiting the content when compared with other match highlights.

Recorded using dozens of 5K Ultra HD cameras located inside Emirates Stadium, this technology has come to the fore in recent months to entertain supporters worldwide with exclusive lockdown content.

Arsenal commercial director, Peter Silverstone, said: “This transformative technology has redefined how we watch back the game that we all love, and we are excited to work with Intel on future innovations that will further enhance the experience for our global fanbase.”

Image: Verizon