Virtual reality in sports took another step forward on Thursday as the NBA announced that it will air one game per week this season in VR.
The league inked a multi-year deal with NextVR, the Laguna Beach, Calif.-based company that raised $80 million in August and lets fans experience games from totally new, immersive perspectives.
Starting with an Oct. 27 game at Sacramento’s new high-tech arena, the NBA will work with NextVR and broadcaster Turner Sports to provide NBA League Pass subscribers with games in virtual reality that will feature dedicated announcers and special graphics built specifically for VR. During game breaks, when normal TV viewers watch commercials, the VR feed will show in-arena entertainment and behind-the-scenes arena footage, The Verge noted.
At the outset, fans will be able to watch via the Samsung Gear VR headset and NextVR’s app, with support for other hardware coming down the line. The first game will be free, though the others require an NBA League Pass subscription, which only provides access to out-of-market games, Recode noted.
As CNET notes, this is the first time a sports league has broadcasted live games in virtual reality on a regular basis. The NBA has been an early adopter of the technology, running tests with NextVR last season — including the first-ever NBA game broadcasted in VR — and partnering with Oculus for a 25-minute documentary that debuted last month.
The league, which also recently inked a long-term deal with Sportradar and Second Spectrum for a new player-tracking system and expanded global distribution of statistics, is generally known to be forward-thinking compared to its peers.
This is also another milestone for NextVR. The The 7-year-old company, recently valued at $800 million, also has a multi-year deal in place with Fox Sports, resulting in virtual reality feeds from events like the U.S. Open and the Daytona 500.
NextVR Chairman Brad Allen spoke at our GeekWire Sports Tech Summit in July and talked about the NBA, noting the opportunity for his company in a country like China.
“We have a big strategy around China,” he said. “There are 300 million NBA fans in China. How many of those will ever get to sit courtside, or even go to a game, much less sit courtside? You think about the virtual ticket to a courtside seat in an NBA game — you can sell millions of the same seat to every game.”
Update: Here is the full schedule of games broadcasted in virtual reality:
Oct. 27, 2016 – San Antonio Spurs at Sacramento Kings – 10:30 p.m. ET
Nov. 1, 2016 – Los Angeles Lakers at Indiana Pacers – 7:00 p.m. ET
Nov. 8, 2016 – Phoenix Suns at Portland Trail Blazers – 10:00 p.m. ET
Nov. 15, 2016 – Brooklyn Nets at Los Angeles Lakers – 10:30 p.m. ET
Nov. 22, 2016 – Portland Trail Blazers at New York Knicks – 7:30 p.m. ET
Nov. 29, 2016 – Cleveland Cavaliers at Milwaukee Bucks – 8:00 p.m. ET
Dec. 6, 2016 – New York Knicks at Miami Heat – 7:30 p.m. ET
Dec. 13, 2016 – Golden State Warriors at New Orleans Pelicans – 8:00 p.m. ET
Dec. 20, 2016 – Denver Nuggets at LA Clippers – 10:30 p.m. ET
Dec. 27, 2016 – Memphis Grizzlies at Boston Celtics – 7:30 p.m. ET
Jan. 3, 2017 – Toronto Raptors at San Antonio Spurs – 8:30 p.m. ET
Jan. 10, 2017 – Cleveland Cavaliers at Utah Jazz – 9:00 p.m. ET
Jan. 17, 2017 – Minnesota Timberwolves at San Antonio Spurs – 8:30 p.m. ET
Jan. 24, 2017 – Boston Celtics at Washington Wizards – 7:00 p.m. ET
Jan. 31, 2017 – Sacramento Kings at Houston Rockets – 8:00 p.m. ET
Feb. 7, 2017 – Portland Trail Blazers at Dallas Mavericks – 8:30 p.m. ET
Feb. 14, 2017 – Toronto Raptors at Chicago Bulls – 8:00 p.m. ET
Feb. 23, 2017 – Portland Trail Blazers at Orlando Magic – 7:00 p.m. ET
Feb. 28, 2017 – Utah Jazz at Oklahoma City Thunder – 8:00 p.m. ET
March 7, 2017 – Washington Wizards at Phoenix Suns – 9:00 p.m. ET
March 14, 2017 – Philadelphia 76ers at Golden State Warriors – 10:30 p.m. ET
March 21, 2017 – Golden State Warriors at Dallas Mavericks – 8:30 p.m. ET
March 28, 2017 – Miami Heat at Detroit Pistons – 7:30 p.m. ET
April 4, 2017 – Minnesota Timberwolves at Golden State Warriors – 10:30 p.m. ET
April 11, 2017 – Charlotte Hornets at Atlanta Hawks – 7:30 p.m. ET