The Clippers debuted two products Wednesday night: the 2018-19 basketball team and a new game-watching experience, Clippers CourtVision.
According to the team site, Clippers CourtVision is a digital viewing technology created in partnership with Second Spectrum that allows fans to augment their watching experience with machine learning and data visualization. Different modes allow the viewer to customize what they see, including play diagrams in Coach Mode, real-time shooting percentages in Player Mode, and special effects and animations in Mascot Mode. There is also a select Beta product that allows fans to choose from seven different camera angles and personalize their audio with the traditional broadcast or the sound from the arena.
Clippers owner Steve Ballmer has been working towards this kind of transformative experience with Second Spectrum, which he invests in, almost since he bought the team. Second Spectrum is an analytics firm founded in 2013 that has rapidly grown and became the “official optical tracking provider” for the NBA back in 2016. The company already has six cameras in every NBA arena, so Clippers CourtVision is leveraging the existing framework to provide an additional service for the fans.
There is currently about a two-minute delay on the CourtVision to allow for processing, but Second Spectrum plans to reduce that to less than 10 seconds. Live sports generally operate on a delay anyway. The company also intends to expand this technology to other sports and other NBA teams in the near future.
Naturally, concerns exist about introducing a giant influx of additional information during the game. Head coach Doc Rivers told Ballmer that he was worried fans in the stands would start looking at their phones instead of watching the live product. Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer wonders if there is a point when analytics go too far. If every question that can be asked about a basketball action can be easily answered, does it ruin our enjoyment of the game?
Regardless of the repercussions of CourtVision, it is undeniably interesting. Personally, the ability to see shooting percentages update as players move in a halfcourt set opens up tons of possibilities of how to understand an offense. Kirk Goldsberry wrote about Expected Possession Value for Grantland in 2014, exploring the idea that a model could estimate the changing point values within a possession based on the likelihood of passes to teammates, and the success rate of those subsequent shots. CourtVision seems like it is applying similar principles to help fans identify efficient outcomes on both and defense. Anything that makes it easier to understand the game would be a plus for me, especially since the graphics don’t appear to be too overwhelming in the game feed.
The introduction of CourtVision is also another feather in the cap of Ballmer and the Clippers as they brand themselves as a innovative franchise. There are only so many ways to gain an advantage on the court, given the constructs of the salary cap and roster building, but LA continues to pursue numerous opportunities off the court, whether through building out its front office or now creating a new game-watching experience. In that sense, CourtVision represents yet another step forward for the Clippers in the Ballmer era. There is no time like the present to build a strong reputation, particularly since the team fancies itself a premier free-agent destination in the upcoming offseason.
How the CourtVision technology can potentially be used to help the LA basketball team itself remains to be seen. For now, both of the new Clipper products are still a work in progress.