Why this NBA team is launching its own streaming service – The Los Angeles Clippers unveiled a new streaming service this morning that reflects the franchise’s chairman, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, on the role the NBA and its teams should play in shaping the digital viewing experience.
“We need to define the future of basketball watching,” Ballmer told GeekWire in an interview. “We’ll always do a better job of it than any distribution partner. Whether we distribute directly or through ESPN, TNT, Amazon, or whoever gets into the distribution business, I believe the experience that makes this the best basketball possible will come from our league.”
The new ClipperVision service costs $199.99 per year. It will only be available to viewers in the Los Angeles market and will include access to all of the team’s games except those broadcast nationally. [Why this NBA team is launching its own streaming service]
The strategy is analogous to a retail brand selling directly to consumers as an alternative to traditional distribution channels, allowing them to establish a closer connection with their customers, or fans.
However, the new Clippers service will have to contend with a growing trend of subscription fatigue, as consumers grow tired of paying for multiple monthly services to access various slices of content, from content aggregators like Netflix and Hulu to narrower streaming sites from entertainment brands and sports leagues.
Individual sports teams launching their own streaming services could add to the sense of overload. Although the Clippers were the first to do so, other NBA teams may follow suit in the future.
However, Ballmer stated that the approach reflects current media consumption trends.
“I think the world is going to mass personalization and mass customization,” he said, adding that he sees no reason to oppose the trend. “Everything else in content is moving in that direction.”
The ability to stream games in the Los Angeles area is a significant difference from the NBA’s $99.99/year League Pass, which does not allow fans to watch games in their local markets due to regional TV deal restrictions.
enabled by a new television contract
Gaining the ability to launch the service was a “fundamental part” of the Clippers’ recent contract renewal with Bally Sports, which distributes Clippers games and is also launching its own streaming service, according to Ballmer.
“I was going to offer the streaming service come hell or high water,” Ballmer said. But, because the team was able to reach an agreement, he added, “it’s now without compromise.”
ClipperVision is built on the NBA’s NextGen platform and other shared technologies, with a “clear path” for other teams to launch their own services using their own variations on the approach, according to Ballmer.
Bally Sports, a Sinclair Broadcast Group subsidiary, also has television rights to more than 20 other teams as part of its regional sports networks. When asked if other NBA teams would use the Clippers’ new contract as a model for their own renegotiations, Ballmer declined to speculate.
ClipperVision features six viewing modes, including the team’s CourtVision augmented reality experience, Korean and Spanish-language streams, and BallerVision, a live commentary mode featuring former Clippers players such as Jamal Crawford, Baron Davis, and Paul Pierce, as well as guest appearances by Ballmer and celebrities.
ClipperVision also comes with a special perk at launch: a limited edition team jacket that is only available to subscribers. Ballmer stated that it was critical to include something “physical and tangible” as part of the service.
Unifying user accounts across digital and in-person experiences is one long-term goal.
“If you want to buy merchandise or come into the arena, we already know who you are and want to make your experience as personalised as possible,” Ballmer said.
Like this year’s Clippers team, led by star players Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, the organization’s new streaming service has been in the works for a long time.
The Evolution of Sports Watching
Since his time as CEO of Microsoft, Ballmer has been thinking about the possibility of bringing new levels of interactivity to sports viewing. He noted that the Microsoft Surface sponsorship deal with the NFL arose from discussions about interactive Xbox viewing experiences that did not materialise at the time.
After purchasing the Clippers for $2 billion in 2014, he was able to pursue his ideas further. Four years ago, Ballmer and the Clippers collaborated with tech company Second Spectrum to launch the CourtVision experience, which featured stats, animations, and other graphics overlayed on screen in near real-time.
According to Ballmer, one advantage of the new direct-to-consumer streaming service will be the ability to add new capabilities in the future. He used the hypothetical example of gamifying the experience as an example of something that would be more difficult in a distribution scenario.
At the same time, the Clippers continue to make significant investments in the future of in-person viewing. The Intuit Dome, the team’s new 18,000-person arena, is set to open in Inglewood, California, for the 2024-25 season.
Ballmer, who has become a fixture at Clippers games, cheering from the baseline seats, believes that the magic of the in-person basketball experience will endure as technology advances.
“There’s still something special about being in the arena, with the energy and the sense of community,” he said.
ClipperVision could become a significant source of revenue for the team in the long run, according to Ballmer, but the team’s top priority right now is to control its own destiny in content distribution.
“Over time, I do see it as a way to make money, but we don’t know how the entire world of content distribution will evolve,” he said. Meanwhile, he explained, “this allows us to be light on our feet.”