The NBA scores with new technology and video gamesFebruary 17, 2014: 9:06 AM ET
The league used the 63rd NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans to debut new technology.
By John Gaudiosi
FORTUNE -- It's been six years since the National Basketball Association (NBA) last brought its All-Star weekend to New Orleans. While that may seem like a small gap of time to fans in the Crescent City, it's a lifetime in the technology world. In that time, the NBA has built one of the largest social media communities in the world.
"We have over 500 million followers and likes combined across all league, team, and player pages on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Sina, and Tencent that had access to All-Star," said Melissa Rosenthal Brenner, senior vice president of marketing, NBA. "Back in 2008, we weren't on Twitter, Instagram didn't exist, and there was no Snapchat. We had a cumulative audience of 500,000 people."
With a constant influx of young players entering the NBA, Brenner said the league's approach has been to follow the lead of these young and tech-savvy early adopters. She pointed out NBA great Shaquille O'Neal was on Twitter before the NBA was. Orlando Magic All-Star Victor Oladipo said he uses Twitter (TWTR) to connect with fans and show them what's going on.
"Technology allows me to show fans the NBA All-Star experience from my perspective," said Oladipo. "I try to interact with them as much as possible and just give them what's going on through my mind and how I'm feeling and offer words of encouragement and stuff like that."
Oladipo was one of the NBA rising stars who took part in a Rookie Roundtable that was livestreamed from the player's Hyatt hotel. Video has played a big part in helping the league expand globally. NBA.com set a new record with 9.5 billion page views and 5.6 billion video streams last year.
During the dunk contest on Saturday, TNT used 23 new 4K cameras, which were placed around the lip of the arena by Replay Technologies, to allow fans to view every dunk from any perspective, clearly and in slow motion. Steve Hellmuth, EVP, Operations and Technology for NBA Entertainment, said this ability to experience and share dunks from 360 degrees will become the most popular VOD on the web globally.
In an attempt to grow its audience, and encourage even more social sharing, the NBA also launched Vine 360 at All-Star. Brenner said this initiative focused on All-Star's fashion, while in-game video highlights were tweeted out throughout the All-Star game using rapid replay technology.
By the time the All-Star Game returns to the Big Easy, players could be wearing technology on their bodies in the form of small discs that capture real-time analytical data on things like cardiovascular exertion, musculoskeletal intensity, fatigue, rate of acceleration and deceleration, number of jumps, and distance run and direction. Nearly 20 teams in the NBA Development League, including the Bakersfield Jam and Fort Wayne Mad Ants, are currently using performance analytic devices in practice and even during games. Additional NBA D-League teams are expected to adopt the technology before the end of the season.
According to the NBA, over two-thirds of NBA players today are videogamers. Gaming has been integrated into the NBA All-Star Jam Session, which featured over 500,000 square feet of booths and activities for the 80,000 fans that attended. 2K Sports (TTWO) had NBA All-Stars Andre Iguodala and James Harden play NBA 2K14 in their booth to win a PlayStation 4 for their local Boys and Girls Club. NBA All-Stars Harrison Barnes and Kevin Durant also spent time at the booth to compete in some virtual hoops and meet with fans.
"I'm a big gamer," said Durant, who plays a lot of Tiger Woods PGA TOUR Golf and Madden. "That's all I do when I've got free time."
NBA All-Star Carmelo Anthony is more an "old school" gamer, having grown up on arcade games like Galaga and Double Dragon and Nintendo games like Super Mario Bros. But he keeps up with the NBA simulation games, including checking out his player ratings.
"I think I could have been rated a little bit higher," said Anthony. "I think if you ask any player they'll tell you that."
Jason Argent, SVP basketball operations at 2K, said every NBA locker room has a game console where 2K is the game the players play.
"Anthony Davis told us that he often uses 2K14 to scout his opponents' tendencies before games, Kevin Durant went as far as to say he often plays the game more than he practices basketball, so it's safe to say NBA 2K is part of the NBA lifestyle," said Argent.
The NBA 2K franchise debuted in 1999 as a Sega Dreamcast exclusive. Since then, the franchise has sold approximately 35 million copies. The game has topped sales of 5 million units each of the past four years. NBA 2K14 has already sold 3.2 million copies on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 and another 1.2 million on Xbox One (MSFT) and PS4 (SNE).
2K Sports faced off against EA Sports (EA) in the basketball sim game for the first time in years, although NBA Live 14 was an air ball at retail. Peter Warman, founder of videogame research firm Newzoo, believes EA is committed to earning a piece of the $200- to $300-million annual business NBA videogames bring in.
"Lifetime sales of the NBA Live franchise is just over 30 million units, which is actually pretty close to NBA 2K," said Warman, who noted EA's biggest year for basketball was in 2005 with NBA Live sales topping 2 million units sold. "The potential sales of the videogames are directly linked to the popularity of the NBA on a global scale. Despite years of effort by the NBA to gain momentum in Asia and Europe, roughly 80% of NBA videogame sales come from the U.S."
Vicky Picca, NBA senior vice president, global merchandising group, said the league works with a dozen active partners in the gaming space, including DeNA's NBA My Dream, the popular card battle game in China, and RenRen's endless runner game, NBA Rush, which pits NBA stars like Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, and LeBron James against aliens. Picca said there have been over 40 million digitally purchased or downloaded NBA games globally across mobile devices and on consoles.
Videogames serve as inspiration for current and future All-Stars. NBA All-Star Kevin Love grew up playing arcade games like NBA Hangtime and NBA Jam.
"Those were the games because you could pull up a hundred times and dunk the ball; you could catch fire; you could go to the corner and shoot threes all day," said Love. "I went with teams like Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton because they could shoot three pointers all day. Jordan wasn't in the game, so I went with Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman a lot, too. But Pippen and Charles Barkley was my favorite combo. Barkley would dunk like crazy. Those games were fun because even if you were down by like 16 or 20 points in a game, you could fire back."
Now Love is featured in the mobile version of NBA Jam from EA Sports, bringing things full circle as technology advances and games improve. Technology is already connecting the game world with the real action on the hardwoods. EA Sports has partnered with Synergy Sports Technology to bring daily updates to NBA Live 14 featuring actual player statistics and tendencies, as well as new challenges based on last night's top games.