(Bloomberg) – Microsoft Corp and National Basketball Association Inc. launches a multi-year pact where the league will adopt cloud computing and artificial intelligence services to personalize the game and experience for many fans.
The agreement, to build a digital platform that focuses on consumers, will begin with the 2020-2021 season, the NBA and Microsoft said Thursday in a statement. The software maker agreement extends to all NBA properties, including the National Women’s Basketball Association, and the United States Basketball. The financial provisions of the pact were not disclosed.
The choice of Microsoft, the world’s largest software maker, was a major blow to rival Amazon.com Inc. and Google Alphabet Inc. in a race for the cloud computing market share. Amazon Web Services leads the market for internet-based computing and storage, with Microsoft Azure putting No. 2. Microsoft also has a partnership with the National Football League – best known for using teams from the company’s Surface tablet.
Signing an NBA is a big win for customers because it happened amid the Covid-19 pandemic and associated economic downturn, when many organizations have decided to postpone major information technology projects. The NBA stopped its current season last month after a player tested positive for the virus, but said delaying the deal, in the course of six months, was not an option.
“We realize that we must take greater control of our destiny,” Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner, said in an interview. “Over time, as we become more global, almost all of our fans will never really set foot in an arena, and they will experience us through some form of media.”
Executives in both organizations describe this effort as akin to building a new media platform for NBA fans, letting the league personalize video content, making it easier to search its archives and integrate existing NBA products and services, including e-commerce sites. When the system detects someone’s interest in, say, Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, because they see James’s spotlight from a game, file or buy his T-shirt, AI adjusts the content for them. It extends to personalized games on the application or website, where the algorithm shows fans more shots of James playing during the game, as well as the statistics. A fan of James’s teammate, Anthony Davis, will see more about Davis on the field. Sports superiors can see more data about the game, while followers of certain influencers can hear their comments.
While Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s chief executive officer, said his favorite NBA team was “all of them,” he acknowledged the importance of having the appeal of the global basketball elite as a client.
“There are 1.8 billion NBA followers on social media, who have consumed content around their favorite players, their games, their teams,” Nadella said in an interview. The company will use its tools for “video, technology, data, speech – all these things together so you can drive the next generation of fan experience.”
With the current season disrupted by a pandemic, Silver said he hoped the partnership had existed six months or a year before. The NBA chose Microsoft over the others because of Nadella’s personal commitment, Silver said. Nadella’s predecessor, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, owned the LA franchise. NBA Clippers.
Nadella said the deal showed Microsoft’s focus on maintaining productivity and ensuring business continuity during the pandemic.
“We need to improve our game and provide more capacity, be it cloud, remote desktop, Tim, whose usage has increased 60 times in this period,” Nadella said, citing the company’s video and chat application. “In the long run, we depend on economic activity and overall GDP growth. In the next few quarters we will know fully what has happened in our economy, but we are also confident that everything will recover. “
Nadella and Silver spoke to President Donald Trump Wednesday during his marathon conversation with business leaders about how to restart the U.S. economy. Silver said the industry was seeking guidance from the federal government about the best way to continue professional sports in the US while keeping participants safe, which would likely mean leaving fans in the arena.
“In the case of the sports sub-group I am part of, there is a discussion about how symbolic it is for the country to get back and running sports given that it is a very large form of entertainment in this country, as well as the psychological benefits that people get from competition and involvement,” said Silver
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