The NBA has long been known as an innovative league that’s always looking to find new and creative ways to expand their reach and bring in new legions of fans. This forward attitude was to some extent driven by necessity. The NBA has always lagged behind the NFL, with the gridiron heroes still drawing in the most money and viewers.

But things are changing. The NBA is a legit contender for crowning itself the leading sports league in the United States. Several reasons are behind this changing trend, and technology is undoubtedly nestled amongst the driving reasons. Here are the most innovative technological innovations that reflect the NBA’s status as the league of the future.

Delivering Real-Time Fan Experiences

NBA fans want immediate NBA news. They want to have the finger on the pulse, the stats delivered as they happen, and control over the content they consume. They want an experience that goes beyond the average.

With only 1% of NBA fans actually attending games in person, the league is putting in serious money to ensure they can have the closest thing to seeing stars like James Harden and Kevin Durant live:

  • Engaging fans via social media. The League was one of the first professional sports organizations that understood the power of social media. It’s no surprise that young fans are starting to turn to the NBA in droves, interacting with players, owners, and official accounts.

  • Highlights = (near) free for all. The NBA’s commissioner, Adam Silver, takes a unique approach to fans sharing videos of game highlights. He has every right to shut them down, but instead, he lets it go. It’s been a strategy that’s paid off in a big way, with fans doing the heavy lifting on social media to boost the league’s visibility.

  • Broadcasting on various channels (and doing very cool stuff). The NBA is far beyond delivering content on an old school television. For example, the NBA2K and NBA G Leagues are both broadcast on Twitch, with fans allowed to vote for the MVP at the end of the game. The chosen player then answers fan questions immediately following the game.

The Smart Jersey of the Future

This one hasn’t arrived on the shelves just yet, but it shows ridiculous potential. The smart jersey was unveiled at the annual All-Star Technology Summit, with fans being able to change both the name and number on the back of a jersey. All they need to do is push a few buttons on their smartphone. Wow.

This has obvious uses: say your favorite player defects and joins another team (‘The Decision’, anyone?). If you don’t want to fork out another hefty whack of change for a new jersey, the smart version is a nice alternative. The NBA hasn’t quite told us how they’ve done it, and we suspect it weighs a little more than what would be acceptable on a basketball court, but we’re very interested to see where they take this one.

Wearable Technology

Okay, so smart jerseys aren’t with us just yet. But wearable tech has well and truly arrived in the NBA. Kinexon, a German firm, has embedded itself as the wearable kit supplier of choice, partnering with half the league to provide an incredible amount of data.

This is how it works: the company developed a tiny transmitter that’s sewn into a player’s shorts. We’re willing to bet that most players never even knew it was there when they first put their jerseys on. It’s that small and light. The tracker packs quite a punch, giving teams the ability to follow a player’s location on the court, track their movements, and monitor injuries. It helps teams yank players off the court before aggravating an existing condition, for example.  

NBA AR App

This one is still a bit of a gimmick, but it’s nifty nonetheless. It uses augmented reality to give fans the ability to ‘live’ the experience of attending a live game through their smartphones.

NBA AR gives users access to the famous NBA intros, ‘private’ player huddles, and interviews/celebrations following the game. To us, this is just a taster of what the app can become. Can we expect to see the ability to control the environment, the viewpoints, and what we see?

The NBA is breaking new ground with their technological innovations. Some may be complete duds, while others may not get the traction they want. But this forward-looking attitude will hit a few winners, giving the NBA even more growth opportunities in 2019 and beyond.