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How the NBA hopes to use generative AI to attract more users to its app

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The National Basketball Association’s 2023 season started on Tuesday night and the league is using generative artificial intelligence in its marketing mix to streamline creating content.

The AI technology, from WSC Sports, will be used to analyze and categorize every play during games, to automatically generate individualized highlight packages for each player in every match. The tech will be used to create social-style content that (hopefully) resonates with fans to drive more people to the league’s app, said NBA’s SVP of digital and social content Bob Carney. Additionally, the NBA is focused on creating more extensive, long-form videos on platforms like YouTube.

“We simply don’t have the human manpower to be able to create the volume of content that we need to create on a daily basis to be able to deliver on personalization,” Carney said. “If it’s a 10 game night, you have 20 teams playing and you have players from all 20 teams registering statistics in every game, we just simply wouldn’t be able to create all of those highlight packages for every single player.”

This streamlined process did not cause layoffs at the company. The NBA declined to say how many app users it has, but that its user base grew by 40% from 2022 to 2023.

In addition to the NBA, a number of other sports leagues are utilizing artificial intelligence in their marketing strategies. The NHL is utilizing AI as part of its content analysis efforts, and the Los Angeles Rams are utilizing AI to support sponsorship deals. NHL did not respond to a request to comment for this story.

“… The use of generative AI… will bring speed and efficiency to the development of key assets for use in the app,” said Aakash Shah, strategy consultant for Prophet’s tech, media and entertainment practice.

While the NBA was revamping its app last year, the league added new features including being able to add team and player tabs to the main screen of the app, allowing them to access real-time content seamlessly. The new tabs will include the latest news, trending topics, vertical video highlights, and updates regarding their favorite teams and players. In addition, a new “Moments” tab will allow fans to scroll through unlimited NBA content using a vertical social media interface. The league took into consideration how its user base behaved on the app to create an experience that felt intuitive, Carney said.

“By better understanding their audiences the NBA can super serve their core customers with highly personalized experiences and ultimately monetize them more effectively,” said Adam Dornbusch, CEO and founder of the SaaS platform EnTribe.

The NBA’s social media team has consistently tried to adapt and optimize content, as Carney noted its YouTube strategy and how it has diversified its focus, particularly with the introduction of Shorts in 2021.

“The beauty of sitting on top of our social media data is you’re able to see consumption trends occur across such a large community just across the main NBA social media accounts,” Carney said. “We use all that data to learn how our fans like to consume content.” 

It is unclear how much of NBA’s advertising budget is allocated to these efforts as Carney declined to share budget specifics. According to Vivvix, with paid social from Pathmatics, the NBA has spent a little over $24 million on advertising so far in 2023.

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