The NBL has made a remarkable resurgence this season, no small thanks to a concerted effort on all fronts, including the numerous ways fans can catch an NBL game live. They range from Foxtel's TV and app offerings, to free-to-air TV (via Channel Nine), to the NBL Live mobile app.
There is however, a gap in its range of offerings when it comes to the desktop experience. The NBL Live FAQ mentioned that "desktop computer/PC streaming is not offered as part of the subscription", but does not elaborate further.
This lapse does not appear to be an accident, given the league's focus and desired audience. During his address on 8th Dec 2015, NBL GM Jeremy Loeliger mentioned the need to improve upon their product from a technological perspective.
Whilst we have completely redeveloped our website, social media platforms, mobile offering and the ways that we communicate to our fans, we still have very lofty ambitions of further improvements in the technology space – and I am confident that the 2016/17 season will see the NBL take another big step forward in bridging the gap between our fans and our athletes.
We want basketball to be the most accessible elite sport that it can possibly be. The NBL is back – perhaps not yet bigger and better than ever before – but we are certainly on our way.
Technology is without a doubt, a prime focus for the league this season, because of the demographic involved. When interviewed by the Huffington Post Australia, Loeliger also emphasized the need for technology to connect with the NBL's younger, millenial audience.
“The slightly older demographic of 15-25 year olds -- we had to give them a reason to get along to games as well and to be more invested in, not so much the sport (because) they love basketball, but they need to be more invested in NBL.
"And so that’s the reason for our driving the new technological regime of the NBL I guess, our new website, which is much more sophisticated than the old one."
The importance of a desktop app
There's no doubt the mobile movement is growing. In 2014, 70% of Australians surveyed were already going online with a mobile phone. The same study also quoted 68% of the users accessing the internet with 3 or more devices. An ACMA research study in December 2014 showed that 12% of the Australian adult population were exclusively mobile, which meant they did not own any fixed internet connections.
Despite the trend towards mobile devices and mobile internet, it's unlikely desktop computers or laptops will be rendered obsolete anytime soon, especially when it comes to streaming products for the sports fan.
Case in point: The NBA recently confirmed that in 2015, League Pass subscribers used mobile devices nearly half of the time (46.4%) in watching games. That is no surprise. The interesting number came from the proportion of desktop users, which stood at 30.9%.
While subscriber figures were not disclosed, it does not take much imagination to conclude that 30.9% of League Pass subscribers by any measure, is a significant number.
It's also worth noting that BallStreams --a popular alternative invite-only NBA streaming platform-- would certainly skew the desktop numbers higher, should its numbers be added to the equation.
It is difficult to form conclusions without relevant statistics, and that is the case here. We cannot say with certainty that the NBL is potentially losing out on a third of potential users without a desktop, and the NBL fan market doubtless varies from the NBA's.
However, one thing is clear: the desktop streaming experience is not going away.
Multimedia and the importance of real-time engagement
It's also hard not to imagine fan engagement as a key metric for success.
The NBA is definitely the blueprint for success in this area, and the league also excels in fan generated content. Be it statistical analysis, X's and O's breakdowns, trade discussions or multimedia, content generated by fans serve to augment official media, and enrich the fan community by presenting alternative perspectives that would otherwise be missed.
Let's dive deeper into multimedia. Twitter and reddit's r/nba are treasure troves for the basketball fan. Entertaining in-game moments from GIFs and videos of highlight rejections to awkward bloopers (#Shaqtin) are captured by eagle-eyed fans without missing a beat. NBA highlight reels are also often found on YouTube as well.
The lack of an NBL desktop streaming app certainly handicaps the production of fan-generated multimedia content like these, and makes for a drop in real-time fan engagement.
Starcom Mediavest Group wrote about seven ways on connecting with next generation fans for sports marketing late last year, and made two points that are relevant here.
Firstly, that live viewing creates opportunities for real-time relevancy.
"While approximately 96% of televised sports viewing occurs live—general entertainment shows, by contrast, are watched less than 50% live—fans are simultaneously engaging with other devices to get fantasy stats, updates and scores from other games. Fifty-two percent of sports fans use a tablet or smartphone to access sports content while watching televised sports, while 66% of them go online at least once per day for sports related content."
It also remarked on sports being inherently social. "Fans want to be connected, and in fact, nearly half of all fans, and close to 60% of millennial fans, say that sports is more about being social than anything else."
What does this mean for the NBL? The sports fan of today not only wants to watch the game, but consume auxiliary content. The fans who are connected to social media not only want to consume, but desire to participate, and share their voices. The young millenials especially, have a "right now" mentality that demands instant relief. The NBL does an excellent job in presenting timely moments via its social media channels, but surely there is room for the fans to join in and have their say?
Imagine if Corey Webster had sank a buzzer beater, winning the title game for his Breakers in the NBL Grand Final. A tweet from a fan screaming "WEBSTER BUZZER BEATER! #NBL16 #HardBall" only serves to invoke curiosity, but not satisfy the need to relive a fantastic moment.
What if a video of the shot made the rounds on social media moments after it happened, thanks to intrepid fans who used their phones to capture a Vine of the shot? The shot could very well go viral.
To quote another example: a recent video of Andrew Bogut firing a misplaced pass into Denver big man Nikola Jokic's face made the rounds on social media, and even created headlines on sports sites. Would the official NBA channels have mentioned it? Likely not. Is it actually newsworthy? Debatable.
Was it attention grabbing though? Yes.
It might not have been the best example of newsworthy content, but this shows how fan generated content created fan interest and in turn engagement, for an otherwise unremarkable accident that would have been overlooked in an earlier, less social media intensive era.
Commercial implications with Foxtel?
One thought that might come to mind, would be the current five-year agreement that Fox Sports has in place with the NBL. The Foxtel Go and Foxtel Play apps allow streaming to numerous devices, including mobiles, tablets and desktops.
What does this mean, when it comes to desktop streaming? Fox Sports is likely the only official provider for desktop streaming live NBL games right now, excluding live streams from gaming websites. Obviously, one can also utilise workarounds by "casting" the stream from your phone to the desktop via Chromecast or Android apps.
Should NBL indeed release a desktop streaming app of their own, could it inadvertently cause competition towards Foxtel's customer base, and take away fans who are only interested in watching the NBL? There could be commercial implications involved.
Exploring desktop streaming on Fox Sports' NBL On Demand
Right now, Fox Sports offers a $4.99 per month digital subscription package. The package details however, do not explicitly mention the NBL.
I signed up for the digital subscription as a test, and was able to watch NBL game replays with no issues.
(Note: subscription and tests were conducted on 17 Jan 2016.)
What is available for replay and live streaming?
The NBL On Demand home page displays a featured set of upcoming live games.
You can see from the screen capture that the next live match were the Kings versus the 36ers on 20 Jan. The next game I had on the NBL schedule however, were the Hawks versus the Breakers on 17 Jan.
Breaking down the replay list
What NBL On Demand also offers, is replay access to 18 NBL games.
You'll also note that the Taipans are denoted with two different initials, CAI and CNS, which makes for a little confusion.
I resorted to Flashscore's NBL schedule as a list of games with results could not be located on the official NBL site, and highlighted the games available via NBL On Demand.
You will observe there are chunks of missing games, even under replay.
Summary: Fox Sport's NBL On Demand product offers desktop streaming for both live and replay, but only for a selection of games.
There is obviously a segment of NBL fans that would be more than delighted to watch games (both live and replay) on their computers, but the question stands: does this portion of the NBL audience warrant investment on a new streaming platform, from the NBL's perspective?
Until something new develops, we might have to rely on workarounds to stream NBL live games onto the computer, or sign up for NBL On Demand. What do you think, is there a demand for a reliable platform for desktop streaming NBL games at all, and have any streaming options been missed in this article? Share your thoughts with us.