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NBA Leaning Into Fans, Digital Video With Restart in Orlando

#NBATwitter has long been the best digital sideshow to the NBA’s on-court action; a collection of dedicated bloggers, writers, former players and fans from around the world that can be found any time day or (especially) night discussing the league. When the NBA resumes its regular season on Thursday, however, #NBATwitter will become an even bigger part of the league’s exciting return.

Leaning into digital fandom and its strong Twitter presence, the NBA will be using in-arena video boards to feature fan engagement and top tweets throughout the games. Between Twitter and the NBA app, the league will be conducting various fan polls and other engagement initiatives as well, which fans will be able to see the results of live and in-game.

Of course, Twitter will also be used to deliver games to fans as well. The platform will be airing the second half of Western Conference Finals games this year, in an effort to both interact with fans, while also potentially picking up casual viewers who hadn’t been aware of tipoff time. TNT will be airing those contests on linear TV as well, and one would think the hope is to convert at least some of those Twitter streamers to that broadcast (where the big ad dollars are).

All of this is a continuation of the NBA’s long-time strategy of using digital means — videos, GIFs, memes, etc. — to connect with its fans around the world. That’s worked wonders in terms of growing the game and making the NBA one of the most popular sports leagues on Earth. The one potential drawback (and it is a significant one) has just been an increasing move for younger viewers to tune in on platforms like Twitter, watching highlights instead of the actual broadcasts.

Creating greater integration with #NBATwitter, the NBA’s likely hoping to bridge some of that gap, and making sure they convert that online enthusiasm into TV viewers. Since March 12, data from Tubular Labs shows that NBA-owned properties (including the teams themselves) still generated over 608 million video views on Twitter. Not bad for going four months without live games.

Some teams like the Los Angeles Lakers even managed to keep up with regular season viewing numbers. Looking at Tubular data again, monthly Facebook video views during quarantine actually were actually on pace with a typical month during the regular season. Here’s how the Lakers performed (on Facebook) month-by-month during the 2019-20 campaign:

  • October 2019 — 28.2 million views
  • November 2019 — 48.8 million
  • December 2019 — 28.0 milion
  • January 2020 — 40.2 million
  • February 2020 — 95.2 million
  • March 2020 — 41.3 million
  • April 2020 — 54.7 million
  • May 2020 — 41.7 million
  • June 2020 — 37.2 million
  • July 2020 (so far) — 36.8 million

As Tubular data shared with Sports Business Journal shows, various teams were able to continue to reach their audiences in quarantine, even without games. The Lakers generated the most views on Facebook, tailoring content to what audiences were responding to — which was a mix of classic videos around players like Kobe Bryant and recent highlights from what’s been a resurgent 2019-20. Meanwhile, the Golden State Warriors were still able to garner the second-most Facebook video views of all NBA teams despite one of the worst records in the NBA this season; all by looking to fill a void with fans by posting videos around what those viewers love (Steph Curry highlights, clips from their recent NBA Finals seasons) and approaching publishing with volume in mind. From March 12 through July 28, the Warriors posted 536 videos on Facebook. That was second-most in the league, only to the Houston Rockets (538).

The NBA’s return will look plenty different without fans, but leaning into its digital fan base may actually make a lot of aspects look the same. While other sports have come back already, the NBA was the biggest national TV property of those that went off the air back in March. That should be a boost not just for fans, but for the industry overall as it looks to get back on more stable footing here in Q3 following a rough start to the year.