NBA to broadcast first live pro sports event in virtual reality

NBA's virtual reality debut
NBA's virtual reality debut

The NBA will make history Tuesday as the league will become the first to broadcast a live professional sports game in virtual reality.

As the 2015-2016 season kicks off, the NBA, Turner Sports and NextVR will live stream opening night when the 2015 NBA Champion Golden State Warriors take on the New Orleans Pelicans.

In addition to the game, participating fans will get a front-row seat to history. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will award the Warriors their 2015 championship rings in a pregame ceremony that will also be part of the broadcast.

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"This is a landmark event for us and will give fans the feeling of sitting courtside," said Jeff Marsilio, vice-president of global media distribution for the NBA.

For now, this unique experience is limited to fans in the United States who own a Samsung Gear VR headset. They can access the live stream via NextVR, found on the Oculus app.

The NBA wouldn't comment on the number of people it expects to tune into the stream but says if this is successful, this could be the beginning of something bigger.

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"It's early days," said Matt Hong, executive vice president and general manager of Turner Sports, the network broadcasting the game.

"When we first started doing games in HD, we didn't know if HD was the next big thing. We started doing things in 3-D and that didn't take really take off," he said.

Marsilio says they have no current plans to broadcast future games in virtual reality, but its success on Tuesday will be closely monitored.

"This is a first step but if it goes well, we will look into other fun ways to continue to enhance the fan experience," he said.

The goal he says, is for the NBA and Turner to be at the forefront of technology and experimenting with new technologies.

Brian Blau, research director at Gartner, says CNN did a similar experiment broadcasting the recent CNN Democratic Debate in VR.

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"It was a very interesting experience to be fly on the wall and feel like you were right there with the candidates," he said.

However, he noted its shortcomings like a time delay, device issues and simply wearing a headset for such a long time.

Blau says he agrees that this is a good investment for the league but hopes the user experience over time for all of virtual reality improves.

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"This is another great way basketball fans can connect with their favorite team," he added.

Under Silver's reign, advancing media and technology has been a priority for the NBA.

The league began experimenting with virtual reality during the 2013-2014 season. Last season, the NBA became the first league to bring virtual reality experiences to the public by offering highlights of the NBA All-Star Game.

Correction: The story has been updated to accurately reflect how the NBA used virtual reality last season.