How to capture a virtual audience… NBA style!

You don’t have to own $100,000 court-side seats to love the NBA. The virtual experience – which has been creatively sliced and diced and repackaged across digital media – gives you a dynamic and exciting view of the sport, its culture and multi-layered storylines, its colourful characters and key moments. In short, a hugely engaging insight into the brand.

It’s a marketing slam dunk and a strategy that corporate marketing teams can copy. Firstly, it can help internal communications. Marketing teams – and the stakeholders they need to talk to – are often spread across countries and continents. So when they do get a chance to interact – at webinars, for example, or virtual conferences – it has to be engaging and productive. Secondly, there is also the potential to communicate more effectively with their brand’s audience by using increasingly flexible digital channels. How can news, promos, competitions, product launches, social events and other events be leveraged for virtual customers?

It’s true that watching Nugget Nikola Jokic or LA Laker, LeBron James display their mind-boggling array of skills is more compelling than watching a virtual corporate event. However, that doesn’t mean marketers can’t learn a huge amount from the way the world of sport reaches its diverse audience, from those lucky enough to see the sport live in the arena to those who enjoy the game on their laptop or smartphone.

And that’s why all marketing departments should be planning corporate events to watch the NBA finals. Hire a bar and put the beers on ice. Watch the game, sure, but also fire up a few laptops and find out what’s happening away from the court. Get a subscription to a franchise TV channel. Start tik-tokking. Tweet and Gram. The good news is that this is research. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. So remember to enjoy the nachos or the Michelob Ultras!

Here is the Paragon PR NBA four-pointer:

1. Make virtual viewers part of the action.

The NBA’s “virtual fan experience”, which blossomed during the pandemic, connected fans to the game using both live video and audio. Fans knew they were heard by the players and weren’t just passive viewing stats! The Brooklyn Nets have gone a stage further and entered the Netaverse, a technology that gives virtual fans a close-up 360° view of the game.

Point 1: Build a two-way connection between the venue and virtual participants. How about creating a series of polls throughout the event? Repeat the same polls to see if attitudes have changed over the day. Or if new concepts/ideas have been learned/taken on board/ignored. A real-time Q&A session is valuable. You can send questionnaires with the invites so you already have interesting data to reveal. A live Twitter feed where attendees can post their thoughts can kick off the sharing process…

2. Create an inspirational content mix

The NBA – like the vast majority of major sports – has developed a fluid system in which studio and court-side analysts use both live and pre-recorded action to ensure the viewer has a seamless experience. Pre-game predictions and post-game reviews are a great opportunity to include highlights and other relevant pieces of video action. The intros to different segments are often supported by cool music. And then there are moments of brilliance like the All-Stars halftime show. The mix creates a very dynamic and uplifting experience.

Point 2: It’s unlikely you will be able to compete with the NBA’s slam dunk highlights or star-studded music but you can introduce your own highly relevant pre-recorded content. This is a chance to be surprising, creative and informative. How about a summary of the data you captured in the questionnaire you sent out with the invite? Or a short film investigating a related topic? Or even a few moments of light – but relevant – comic relief? And don’t forget the music!

3. MCs – the star of the show

The NBA and broadcasting outlets have huge rosters of brilliant presenters who keep fans focused on their shows. The knowledge, the scripts and the spontaneous repartee are all amazing. It leaves the viewer relaxed and happy, aware of what is happening and what’s up next. The Bleacher Report even asks: “Is it possible Charles Barkley is more important to the game of basketball as a studio analyst than he was as a Hall of Fame player?”

Point 3: Most corporate events are not quite as exciting as the NBA Finals. And so a drab and mono-syllabic host will end up with the virtual audience encountering sudden technical problems! A very good MC on the other hand – confident, funny and a master of the brief – will ensure the day is inspirational and productive. For larger events consider hiring a professional.

4. Analysis – the follow-up content

When the basketball game ends, the serious basketball debate begins. Studio pundits like Sir Charles and Shaq start drilling down into the action. Who was MVP? Who flopped? Whose strategy was best? Who’s hot and who’s not? What were the key moments? Which coach made the right calls? It’s snappy and exciting. And then there are the straight highlights to enjoy on YouTube, like game 4 of the Lakers versus the Nuggets.

Point 4: After the event, create your own highlights package. Summarise the key take-aways in a clever way. Excerpts of the more interesting debates/talks can be posted on Youtube; the best moments can also be sliced and diced for Twitter, Instagram etc. Or you could send videos directly to the attendees. The goal is to create screen-based virtual experiences that are totally different – and perhaps better – than watching the real thing live.

If you would like to talk to us about creating content for your virtual events then we’d love to hear from you!

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