If you watch much NBA League Pass, you’ve probably noticed a change in how the games are broadcast now compared to a couple of years ago. In the past, whenever there was a timeout or any other break in the game, the screen would cut to this:
Which used to sit there on the screen in silence until the game came back on. This kind of sucked. It killed a lot of the tension and excitement of the game by having a jarring silence in between gameplay (especially if it was close at the end of the 4th quarter, with timeouts after pretty much every play).
But now whenever there is a break in the game they switch from the polished* TV broadcast to a raw live feed of what’s happening in the stadium, and what’s on the Jumbotron.
This is great for so many reasons – but particularly because now you get to see the Jumbotron entertainment and how it varies in different stadiums across the USA.
Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, wrote a great piece in his blog a few years ago describing what he believed to be the most important aims of basketball teams and their game-day entertainment:
We in the sports business don’t sell the game, we sell unique, emotional experiences. We are not in the business of selling basketball. We are in the business of selling fun.
… I want it to be very participatory. I want it to be very social. I want it to be very inclusive. I want it to be memorable. I want it to be so much fun people talk about it to their friends and can’t wait to go back.
So let’s use that as our criteria (fun, participatory, social, memorable) and have a look at the best activities used by organisations across the NBA:
1. Kiss Cam
Say what you want, but Kiss Cam is the most consistently effective form of crowd Jumbotron action. Not many stadiums change this winning formula, and that’s because it’s simple and it just works.
I dare you to watch this Kiss Cam skit from a Bulls v Celtics game without wishing you were there cheering at the end:
I don’t care that it is staged, either. It’s great.
Other common & effective Kiss Cam gags:
• Boyfriend embarrasses girlfriend by overdoing it (also seen in the Benny the Bull footage above)
• Camera operator embarrasses teenager by putting him on Kiss Cam next to an older woman who he clearly doesn’t know
• Camera swings back to a couple who previously refused to kiss
• Dude kisses/chugs a beer instead of kissing girlfriend (or in this case, I think the guy just improvises when put on camera with someone he doesn’t know, and nails it)
• Camera focusing on an opposition fan sitting with no one next to him just so he can get booed
2. Dance Cam / Dancing staff / Dance Off
These sometimes go viral, and therefore they often get staged… in an attempt to go viral. But who cares. It’s like how even though there were those TV specials giving up all of the magician’s secrets, people still enjoy a little magic (…right?)
It’s almost impossible not to watch this video about ten times. Watch how nuts the crowd goes at 1:45 onwards. Fun, participatory, social, memorable. Cuban would approve:
And you’ve definitely already seen this one, but it is another classic, so enjoy:
What’s really interesting is to see is how people in different cities react to being put on the big screen, and Dance Cam in particular. In general, Americans are great at this. Even during a blowout game, fans in most cities seem thrilled to be on the screen and dance immediately.
This is especially so in the ‘smaller market’ cities. It’s probably an unfair generalisation to say that fans in LA are too ‘cool’ to get into Dance Cam, but you can’t deny that it is more vibrant in Detroit, Atlanta or Milwaukee.
On our site, multiple sports fans have tips talking about Mavericks being good at giveaways and even mention Mark Cuban by name in the materials given away, calling it “Cuban Gear”. So this is clearly something that can leave an impression on a visiting sports fan, and something that the Mavs see as important.
Like all things in life, the best types of giveaways involve items either parachuting from the ceiling or being shot out of a cannon.
Another bit that stadiums sometimes use is to have an opposition fan win a prize and go to collect it on camera, only to have the Mascot turn up and destroy the prize/smack a pie in the opposing fan’s face. I recently saw a flatscreen TV get “smashed” in this bit. All great material.
4. The crowd noise-meter thing
I’m not sure how much money Guns ‘n Roses make for each time ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ gets played at a sports venue somewhere, but it wouldn’t need to be much for them to live peacefully on their own island (next to the one owned by The White Stripes).
More than anything else on this list, the crowd noise-meter is wholly dependent on the game. If it’s a close game, this can be a great way to get the fans fired up for the tense final stages of the 4th quarter. If it’s a lousy game and they play it anyway, you become a bit too aware that this is an animation and not at all interactive.
5. The half-court shot for a prize
Only one person takes this at a time, and the results usually aren’t great:
…but when the person does make the shot and win the prize, there is a buzz that it generates that is unique to the half court shot. The crowd goes wild, the announcers and broadcasters report on it and play it back, and the players seem to get a kick out of it, too.
As sports fans, one of the reasons we watch games is in the hope of getting that brief feeling that anything is possible. I like to think that a made half-court shot by a fan gives a little bit of that feeling back to the players, too.
Check out this video from (far happier times in) Phoenix:
6. Bandwagon cam
The Knicks did this most recently with Golden State fans, but Google and Funny Or Die also show that the Wizards were onto it a few years back with Miami fans. It doesn’t matter who started it – this is fantastic:
— TAB (@tabcomau) February 1, 2016