If you’re a regular on Basketball Twitter, you might see it flash across your timeline a few times a night:
The brainchild of NBA.com stat savant/hoops obsessive John Schuhmann, the hashtag #LeaguePassAlert serves as sort of a community-wide clarion call: Hey, whatever you’re watching, something really cool is happening in this non-nationally-televised game being broadcast outside your local market, so grab the remote or switch browser windows and check it out.
But what if you don’t subscribe to League Pass through your cable provider or the NBA’s broadband option — whether for a full-season pass, a team-specific pass or by buying the single-game option before tipoff — and you still want to check out the game everyone’s talking about? I mean, you can’t just miss TreyBurke vs. KembaWalker, right?
Well, in that case, you’re probably dialing up an illegal stream. But since the NBA doesn’t want you to do that when you could be paying them, they’ve decided to move toward a segmented a la carte digital option that will allow fans to dial up the game of the moment at the moment it becomes one.
The NBA started test-driving the program last Friday, pushing a notification to subscribers to the league’s official app offering them to chance to check out the fourth quarter of a game between the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder — a competitive contest between two playoff squads happening away from the bright lights of national TV — without a full-scale subscription to the League Pass service:
— Vasu Kulkarni (@Vasu) March 24, 2018
Four days after floating that test balloon, the NBA announced Tuesday that, starting next season, it will begin allowing fans “to purchase and watch live NBA games in-progress at a reduced price” through the NBA app, NBA.com and Bleacher Report Live, the forthcoming live sports streaming service to be launched by league broadcast partner Turner Sports. (There’ll reportedly be a lot of live sports available for purchase on that service.) Specifics on how the new feature will work, and how much individual in-game purchases will cost, “will be announced at a later date,” according to the announcement.
“Our long-standing partnership with the NBA has been led by a shared vision to provide fans with the most engaging experiences that match a wide variety of viewing preferences,” Turner president David Levy said in a statement. “This is a game-changing initiative to provide fans with personalized access to premium NBA content. From games on TNT and NBA TV or the volume of out-of-market games through NBA League Pass, to the defining moments of a thrilling matchup with a compelling story arc, we’ll have it covered.”
The NBA’s been offering single-game League Pass purchases for $6.99 for three seasons, but “Tuesday’s announcement signals the first time a major sports league is offering fans the chance to buy parts of games,” according to ESPN’s Darren Rovell.
It represents the extension of an idea NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s been considering for at least a year, one he discussed during an appearance on a panel at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January of 2017:
“Certainly we’re going from a place where it was one price for an entire season of games,” Silver said, referring to NBA LEAGUE PASS. “Now just in the last two years, we’ve made single games available. But I think you’re going to get to the point where somebody wants to watch the last five minutes of the game, and they go click, they’ll pay a set price for five minutes as opposed to what they would pay for two hours of the game. So I think you’re going to take the same great content, and you’re just going to make it that much more available to people who want it.” […]
“I think it’s going to be a lot easier to watch games on mobile devices,” Silver said of the future.
“I think you’re going to hit the point where for example…you’re on a Twitter feed or you get an alert. I think there will be a lot more sophisticated alerts, and you’ll see ‘I know Sue Bird, I like Sue Bird, Sue Bird’s going for a record-setting game.’ And then you’re going to go click, and then you’re going to get the game.”
Whether the option to pay “a small fee” to watch a tight game, a thrilling comeback, a potential record-setting performance or just a regular old second half between Denver and Dallas will dissuade non-subscribing fans from seeking out, shall we say, alternative methods of watching the local broadcast remains to be seen.
As Rovell notes, though, the NBA’s fanbase skews young, and “younger fans are used to making micropayments and buying things on impulse, especially when they pop up in their social feeds.” All things considered, betting on the ease of one-click ordering, the strength of the product they’re selling, and the desire to avoid the fear of missing out on something amazing seems like a pretty smart wager for a league looking to reach as many prospective customers as possible.
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