Although there has been plenty to keep NBA fans busy after the playoffs concluded, many still have a desire for more content to fill their cravings. As time goes on, the amount of players, games and moments unremembered by fans increases exponentially. While Youtube and NBA TV provide scattered opportunities to watch classic games, the NBA should want its fans to be well-versed in the history of the game.
While there seem to be plans to archive footage (and maybe release such footage one day), there hasn’t been much news revealed recently related to the project. This would be a boon for NBA fans both young and old, but the NBA would want to release the footage in the proper way to both maximize possible revenues and viewer enjoyment.
Enter the NBA Network.
The subscription-based service would provide fans with archived footage of regular season, playoff and All-Star games to access on demand. For fans learning the game, the network’s archives would let them be able to see how the game evolved from a low-post game into the perimeter based game it is today. They could watch the evolution of the three pointer as a new part of the game to a weapon. Being able to watch the greats such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Dominique Wilkins or Isiah Thomas, while learning about some of the best teams from earlier eras like the late 70’s Blazers (while reading Breaks of the Game) or reliving the dominant 1990’s Bulls teams, would help the growth of the NBA as fans connect to the past.
One of the issues with this setup would be a lack of original content to keep the interest of fans once they wade their way through all the footage they wanted to see from the onset. How can the league keep the network a viable option for its fans and interest high during the season and for offseasons to follow?
It’s simple – make Bill Simmons the face of the network.
The former ESPN writer showed how much he loved the history of the game with his tireless research for The Book of Basketball. He was able to provide the same writing, reaction and insight into the 1970’s and 1980’s as he was to current games that made him the NBA’s most popular writer. The possibilities of using him to create fresh content would be endless and should help the NBA Network explode in popularity from the get go.
Simmons could select his favorite Larry Bird book for the ‘Book Club of the Month’ feature on the network, write a column about the book or have a round-table discussion about Bird, then select his favorite Bird games for viewers to watch concurrently while reading the biography. He could then find a way to solicit viewer feedback on what they learned about Bird or their own favorite Bird moments to keep fans engaged and participating with the network. Simmons would be able to convey this in his own distinct way that fans have grown to love and crave.
He could also select classic playoff series and interview several of the key players involved to accompany the coverage. Simmons and friends could pick games to do their own commentary over the action, much like director’s cuts on DVDs. He could discover and share old NBA commercials, interviews and championship summaries. As the NBA Draft approaches, Simmons could relive past NBA Draft coverage, create retro draft diaries, or interview the upcoming prospects. I’m sure Simmons would love digging through the hours and hours of footage to create original highlight and blooper reels that could be accessed by fans on demand.
At the same time, Simmons could provide his real-time commentary during the season on NBA happenings by having subscriber-only columns and podcasts throughout the regular season. The ability to access Simmons’s writings would increase the popularity of the network and keep subscription numbers up throughout the season. While this would pigeonhole Simmons into NBA coverage, taking away some of the freedom he’s come to enjoy under Grantland or that he could get elsewhere, he’s made it clear the NBA is his favorite sport and this opportunity would be perfect for him, both for himself to dive into the countless hours of archived footage and for the subscribers. They will get access both to the footage they’ve been after, as well as Simmons’ brainstorms and what stems from them.
Simmons could also create documentaries in the same vein of the great ESPN 30 for 30 series he helped create and manage. While he may not get to do every idea he has with content being controlled by the NBA, he could dive deep into some interesting players and subjects that would make for riveting television.
The subscription choices could be flexible as well, as the NBA could pair the network with its current League Pass offerings as an add-on at a discounted price. Fans interested in only their team’s games could also subscribe on a single team basis, making them only able to access content involving their favorite team. Incentives and options for the consumers will be crucial to the success of the network and keep the content fresh. All of this content would have to be available on demand for subscribers at their leisure but with the ability to participate in real time; the goal is to keep viewers engaged on a weekly and monthly basis during the offseason.
While the launch of the synonymous WWE Network was historic, it definitely had some issues that kept it from becoming wildly successful as expected. The NBA can learn from some of their mistakes, including releasing all archived video right away (or having a specific timeline by decade), providing fresh choices and programs for viewers and making the online product easy to use. While it won’t be perfect from the start, if the league pairs it with League Pass, organizes its archives and keeps viewers interested with unique and new offerings, it could be an excellent business venture for the league and help the game grow by connecting fans to the past.
It’s 2015 – viewers should be able to consume media of their choice on-demand in a controlled manner. There is little reason for the NBA to withhold its historical footage and providing its fans with a network like this would keep viewers engaged year-round. It’s time for the NBA to release the archived footage and engulf fans with endless entertainment and be the leader in this medium among professional sports leagues.
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