Welcome to the Brave New World of Local NBA Broadcasting
Around the league, teams are taking a more innovative approach than ever to one of their most important fan touchpoints

Welcome to the Brave New World of Local NBA Broadcasting

April 12, 2024

The NBA regular season draws to a close this Sunday, which means that what many consider the real NBA season — the Playoffs — is about to begin.

But if you haven’t been watching, you’ve missed out.

Not only because the 2023-24 season has been a feast for fans of fast-paced, high-scoring basketball, but because the very means through which most people consume the NBA — the local telecast — is evolving right in front of us.

It’s been a banner year for NBA broadcasts, with the league openly embracing new technologies and personalities to court a diversity of audiences. This should come as no surprise: the world’s biggest basketball league is also one of its most innovative, with an almost Silicon Valley-esque approach to R&D and new product initiatives (see: the new-for-2023 In-Season Tournament as well as the nascent, beloved Play-In Tournament, which will take place for the fifth straight year next week).

Now that progressive attitude is extending to how the league and its members are approaching their nightly telecasts.

By the end of Sunday, there will have been 1,231 games played this season. As is the case with other marathon leagues like MLB and the NHL, the vast majority of those games are not broadcast nationally. That means most fans interact primarily with their favorite team through local broadcasts, which are usually produced with cable TV syndicates via contracts negotiated on a team-by-team level.

But that’s not always the case.

Last summer, it was announced that the Phoenix Suns would not renew their contract with Bally Sports, a group of regional cable networks that owns the rights to many of the NBA’s local games. In its place, the Suns brokered a deal to show local broadcasts via two public channels and also launched their own direct-to-consumer streaming app, Suns Live, which relies on the NBA App’s technology and payment infrastructure. Around the same time, Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith launched Jazz+, a streaming app that local Jazz fans in Utah and parts of Idaho and Wyoming can use via subscription. 

Both apps follow a model pioneered last season by ClipperVision, which gives Clippers fans access to not only their local Bally Sports feed, but also a number of “alternative” telecasts that include Spanish or Korean audio feeds, a “BallerVision” option featuring commentary from former Clippers players and celebrity fans, and two “CourtVision” feeds powered by AWS that supplement the game feed with augmented-reality graphics.

One other Western Conference team, the Portland Trail Blazers, also went the AR route this year, implementing it into their standard local TV broadcasts with the help of Disguise, an experiential technology company that has co-produced live shows for Massive Attack and U2. Blazers’ broadcasts are a wonder to behold in general: they’re one of only five NBA teams that produce their own show in-house, and each game has a highly cinematic touch about it, with unusual camera angles, slick editing and constant graphic overlays that relay real-time data.

At times, watching a CourtVision or Blazers’ broadcast can feel disorienting, the same way a video game might the first time you play it. Suddenly there’s a glut of new visual information for our brains to process, and it’s easy to yearn for the older, simpler, more conventional broadcasts we grew up on. But perhaps this is just the way we process change — slowly at first, then wholeheartedly once we’ve gotten our bearings.

Of course, the most important change in NBA broadcasts this year might not be a technological advance at all, but a human one: the growing influence of some much-needed women’s voices in commentary booths around the league. By our count, there are now seven women doing full-time play-by-play or color commentary on local broadcasts around the league, along with four more women on national broadcasts, including the fantastic, boundary-breaking Doris Burke, who will become the first woman to call a major men’s American championship for TV when she does the NBA Finals in June.

These changes are more than mere milestones. TV broadcasts are by far the most visible and meaningful touchpoint that most NBA fans will have with their favorite team throughout the season. By diversifying a studio booth or introducing a flashy new visual paradigm, you invite in new audiences that might otherwise not pay you a passing glance. Only once you’ve captured their attention can they learn about your team, its history and the brilliant personalities that make it up. Maximize those opportunities and you maximize your impact — today, tomorrow and 10 years from now.

Further reading on the NBA broadcasting renaissance...

Sports Business Journal: NBA bolsters streaming, content capabilities

The New Yorker: Bill Walton brings his spacey, hyper-fluent patter to a new kind of sports broadcast

Sports Video Group: Portland Trail Blazers crank up in-house live broadcasts

The Athletic: Doris Burke on her rise to NBA's top booth

And some other assorted nuggets of internet wisdom from this week ...

The Kicks You Wear: Nike's official campaign for Victor Wembanyama is the best we've seen in a long time

Yahoo Sports: Indiana Fever to be on national TV 36 times in anticipation of Caitlin Clark going first in draft

Wall Street Journal: Bill Murray's son designed UConn's record-breaking offense

Cllct: Grading all 30 MLB team's best giveaways

ESPN: Why so many NBA players are rocking the Sabrina 1s

Welcome to the Brave New World of Local NBA Broadcasting