Genius Sports, NBA Team Up on ‘Dragon’ Technology

Second Spectrum and the NBA announced a multiyear partnership expansion Thursday, centered around what the video analytics and data company sees as the next generation of action technology.

Called “Dragon,” the new ball and player tech offering increases the number of locational data points gathered during a game by orders of magnitude. The impacts could stretch from more detailed analysis done by teams to higher fidelity live virtual recreations on experimental broadcasts.

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As part of the announcement, the NBA will use Second Spectrum’s augmentation technology to create enhanced graphics on alternate telecasts available via League Pass. The tech’s impact could be felt as soon as next season, and it may also trickle out to other media partners as well as additional sports and leagues.

“We have developed the next fundamental shift in tracking technology,” Second Spectrum chief commercial officer Michael D’Auria said in an interview. “It’s a new paradigm for tracking that is a step function beyond what is possible today, going from millions to billions of data points for an individual game, which will unlock whole new classes of products.”

The league also announced that Sony Sports’ Hawk-Eye Innovations would take over responsibility for optically tracking player and ball movements beginning next year, with Second Spectrum focusing on supporting teams’ and media outlets’ extraction of insights and broadcast augmentations from the data. The company will track NBA games in three dimensions to capture elements such as player hand positioning.

“This data will enhance our officiating, power significant insights for our teams and create a dynamic data set that will improve our game and enable unique engagement opportunities for NBA fans,” NBA EVP of basketball strategy and analytics Evan Wasch said in a statement.

Originally built for cricket, Hawk-Eye tech now tracks a number of sports, including baseball, tennis and soccer. The company, which was acquired by Sony in 2011, partnered with the NFL in 2021 to improve officiating review workflows.

Sportradar will also be involved as the NBA’s exclusive data provider, “working alongside Hawk-Eye to allow for the generation of accurate, reliable, low-latency tracking data” according to the NBA statement and creating advanced stats and “new engaging insights” as well.

Second Spectrum, which works with the Premier League and MLS in addition to the NBA, was acquired by Genius Sports for $200 million in 2021. Founded in 2013, the company uses in-arena cameras to generate real-time data feeds used for coaching-related evaluations as well as media-based outputs. More recently, the tool has also been leveraged by officiating experts and betting providers.

Genius’ tech has been used in both Nickelodeon’s and Amazon’s NFL broadcasts to augment the action. This year, the Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Clippers teamed with Genius to add data insights such as predictive shot percentages to their presentations.

Hypothetically, more detailed tracking data could one day be used to instantly pass judgment on potential goaltending situations or evaluate the differences in two players’ shooting motions.

NBA League Pass is already home to several broadcasting experiments, such as a Bill Walton-driven Throw it Down AltCast and NBA HooperVision, an alternate feed hosted by former players.

“As one of the most technologically advanced leagues in world sport, NBA teams, fans, broadcasters and media partners demand cutting-edge innovations,” Genius Sports CEO Mark Locke said in a statement. “We are proud that the NBA shares our vision that Dragon can solve the technology challenges of the future.”

(This story has been updated in the fifth through eighth paragraphs to include the news of the NBA utilizing Hawk-Eye technology to track player and ball movements.)

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