Microsoft and NBA Sign Multiyear Deal for AI, Cloud Services

Microsoft and the National Basketball Association have inked a multiyear deal to build a consumer-facing digital platform to debut with the 2020-2021 season. The NBA will utilize the tech company’s Azure cloud computing and artificial intelligence capabilities to customize games and experiences. The deal’s terms were not revealed, but it covers all NBA properties including the Women’s National Basketball Association and USA Basketball. To win the deal, Microsoft bested cloud competitors Amazon and Google.

Bloomberg reports that “Amazon Web Services leads the market for Internet-based computing and storage, with Microsoft Azure placing No. 2.” Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NBA ended its season last month, but still greenlit this project.

“We recognize that we have to take more control over our destiny,” said NBA commissioner Adam Silver. “Increasingly, as we become more global, almost all of our fans will never actually step foot in an arena, and they will experience us through some form of media.”

The platform will allow NBA fans to “personalize video content” as well as search the league’s archives. When the system detects an interest in a specific player, AI will show that player’s stats and more shots of his game play.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella noted that, “there are 1.8 billion followers of the NBA on social media, who already are consuming content around their favorite players, their games, their teams … [and Microsoft’s tools will be used for] video, tech, data, speech — all of these things together so that you can drive this next generation of fan experience.”

“We’ve had to raise our game and provision more capacity, whether it’s cloud, remote desktop, Teams, whose usage has grown by 60 times in this period,” added Nadella, referring to the company’s chat and video application. “In the long run, we are dependent on overall economic activity and GDP growth. In the next couple of quarters we’ll know the full extent of what has happened in our economy, but we’re also confident that things will recover.”

Nadella and Silver spoke to President Trump about “how to restart the U.S. economy,” specifically with regards to professional sports.

The Wall Street Journal reports that, “the conversation about opening up sports continues, into this hopeful, baffling zone of unknowingness.” President Trump has signaled his interest in bringing sports back, stating he’s “tired of watching baseball games that are 14 years old.”

In fact, the White House created “a Commission of Commissioners, an all-star conclave of sports heavies like NFL boss Roger Goodell, the NBA’s Adam Silver, baseball’s Rob Manfred, hockey’s Gary Bettman, NASCAR vice-chair Lesa Kennedy, and … [WWE chief exec] Vince McMahon … [as well as] shadow commissioners Jerry Jones and Robert Kraft … PGA boss Jay Monahan, [Dallas Mavericks owner] Mark Cuban … [and] the UFC rabble-rouser Dana White.”

Professional sports leagues are considering all kinds of ideas to bring the games back but, says WSJ, these ideas are “grossly underestimating how significant a factor fans are to the sports-watching experience,” predicting that the “novelty of ‘no fans sports’ will quickly burn off.”