The NBA Is Making a Big Data Play

Video ads are a part of the initiative's future

Who knew that when Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul passes the ball to a teammate within five feet of the basket, there’s an 89 percent chance it will result in a score? And while fans know that San Antonio’s Tony Parker is a great player, how about the fact that he scores every 0.24 times he gets the ball?

Those sports-nerd stats are a tiny sample of what the National Basketball Association has in store for fans for the approaching season as the league looks to energize its content marketing with Big Data. In a nod to baseball’s sabermetrics (or to Moneyball, for movie buffs), basketball stats like points and turnovers are about to become old hat. For the first time, all 29 of the NBA’s arenas will have software-packed cameras that will record players’ every move, mapping 25 images per second.

“We are really setting out on a journey,” said Steve Hellmuth, NBA evp of operations and technology. “We want statistics that visualize the game and lead to a greater understanding of it.”

Chicago-based Stats, which is behind the video-based system dubbed SportVu, tested its platform with individual teams in the past few years before striking a cross-league deal with the NBA. Now the plethora of data will be employed during games shown on cable’s NBA TV, as well as in’s postgame analysis stories and infographics. The league’s Facebook and Twitter accounts will constantly promote consumer engagement around the data as well. “We want fans to make the new stats a part of their lexicon,” Hellmuth said.

SAP, the business software brand (and NBA tech partner), gets branding around the data, which seems rife with ad possibilities for other brands down the road.

“There are definitely video advertising opportunities,” Hellmuth said. “We’re going to link together the stats and video experiences.” But NBA’s marketing team doesn’t want to throw too much at fans, especially before plugging media partners such as ESPN and Turner into the data system.

“The plan is to be much broader than the NBA properties,” said Brian Kopp, Stats’ svp of sports solutions. “We’re going to first get an understanding of what people want to see. Then, we’ll know what we want to offer to other partners, rather than just kicking open the door.”

Kopp’s firm plans to work with marketers around the 2014 Winter Olympics. So just as baseball bloggers have long embraced data as content, the NBA and other sports marketers are increasingly leveraging stats using technology.

“This data could engage casual basketball observers as well as the ardent fans,” said Union Metrics CEO Hayes Davis. “It’s not just about points-per-game anymore.”