From AI Crossovers to AI Chatbots: The NBA Has Found a New Cheat Code



Matt Wujciak
12/02/2019

facebook messenger

Just like in any lucrative industry dependent upon competitive play calls and sexy brand imaging, the analytics revolution in professional sports has arrived. 

For example, the NFL uses player-tracking data to see that a defensive lineman will sometimes run more from the bench to the field during a substitution or stoppage of play than he will during actual gameplay. Thus, designing plays to the far side of the field can help rotating defensive linemen exert more energy and increase a team’s chance of winning the game by a determinable percentage. 

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The NBA, on the other hand, records every detail of every shot taken throughout a game. A scouting report may include an analysis of a shooting guard who is ten percent less likely to hit a three on one side of the court versus the other. Encouraging opponents to let that player shoot that shot a certain number of times is a variable that can be inserted into an algorithm to determine other variables, like time of possession, and again, the chance of winning.

Predictive analytics and AI generated algorithms are being used throughout the professional sports industry in more ways than play calls and decisions consumers view on the surface. In fact, AI is dictating how NBA consumers view the sport period. 

NBA personalizing the consumer experience

The NBA announced a partnership last week with AI customer-centric start-up, GameOn Technology. GameOn who was founded in 2014 has already raised $3.5 million dollars through recent partnerships with media brands such as TIME Inc. and Sky Sports,  as well as professional sports leagues, such as Arsenal F.C., NHLPGA Tour, and as mentioned, the National Basketball Association.

The AI software will engage fans of the league through automated chat, making it easier than ever for fans to consume NBA content. Through Facebook Messenger, GameOn Technology will deliver tailored previews, in-game highlights, news notifications, scoring alerts, schedules, and even GIFs (maybe soon memes too?). Fans will now have personalized digital viewership depending on their favorite teams, players, and other data they choose to insert, dictating the content delivered to their messenger inbox. 

Streamlining content through GameOn

The NBA chatbot will be powered using GameOn’s proprietary development and integration platform called ChatOS, originally designed to aggregate data and deliver streamlined content via messaging and voice applications directly to brands. Brands are then able to deploy the content across their specified distribution platforms in a manner that they see most effective, like in the NBA’s case, Facebook Messenger.  

"The NBA has worked tirelessly to expand its reach across borders and formats to make it widely accessible to more of the world. The NBA chatbot is the latest example of the league's successful efforts to expand how they connect with new and existing fans in innovative ways," said Kalin Stanojev, co-founder and chief product officer at GameOn. 

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In reference to a previous article I wrote about the NBA’s Customer Experience and Marketing strategies, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver stated, “If we provide those snacks to our fans on a free basis, they’re still going to want to eat meals — which are our games. There is no substitute for the live game experience. We believe that greater fan engagement through social media helps drive television ratings.” And it’s working. Although streaming options and changing audience habits have cut into TV viewership on the whole, NBA ratings have remained fairly stable (they were actually up in 2017-2018. 

The bigger picture

Machine learning and AI analytics used to develop these personalized “snacks” have made the NBA game format easier to scrutinize in order to individualize consumer experiences. The most notable recent examples include changing timeout rules to a shorter viewing experience, experimenting with virtual reality broadcasts via Google Cardboard, offerings of $1.99 piecemeal packages for customers to just watch the fourth quarter rather than paying $199 for full-season access to League Pass (the official NBA live stream), increased social media engagement and followers by 17 million on Twitter and Facebook since 2016, promoting YouTube highlights and streams (as seen in the above quote), and now, partnering with GameOn chat technology to provide customized updates and highlights.

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If you take a look at each of these strategic play calls, you’ll realize all of them involve the implementation of automation to personalize experiences for customers on an individual basis. As technology increases our ability to deliver quality customer service, sports fans (one genre of customers that serve as an example of modern consumer behavior) expect instant gratification and quality service that automated technology provides, like chat. Consumers want the convenience aspect of automation (access to highlights in our inbox), yet the personalization of individually customized services (the right highlights in our inbox). It’s safe to say that the NBA has taken CX to the next level, again.

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