NBA and Google gamify playoffs with virtual app experience



Dive Brief:

  • The NBA and Google Pixel on April 18 announced a virtual space in the NBA App with activities tied to real playoff games, according to details emailed to Marketing Dive. Once inside the “Pixel Arena,” fans can create an avatar sporting a team’s gear, play an NBA trivia game, view 3D game highlights and virtually insert themselves into past games using their phone’s gyroscope.
  • During halftime and post-game, users can relive how top scorers and teams performed with 3D shot recaps based on real-time NBA data from the game’s first half. Attending games and scoring trivia points will let users climb the leaderboard and unlock virtual gear for their avatar.
  • While the effort promotes the brand and technology backing Google’s Pixel smartphone, dubbed the “official fan phone of the NBA,” the mobile activation works across all iOS and Android devices during halftimes and between playoff games starting April 23.

Dive Insight:

This is the first immersive experience developed by Google and the NBA, per the press release, helping to deepen fan interest around the playoffs and drum up social media buzz during live games. The “Pixel Arena” activation brings a new meaning to courtside, leaning into the broader consumer trend of second-screening on a phone while watching TV.

During the tournament, which runs April 16 to June 19, basketball fans can interact with the NBA Playoffs in a more engaging and gamified fashion. The mobile activation is designed to keep fans interested longer, letting them explore courts via virtual avatar and test their knowledge with trivia that’s based on real-time game stats. The more time fans spend in the app, the more points they will earn on a leaderboard to unlock levels and special gear for their avatars — an approach that offers a sense of competition and exclusivity, but likely won’t compel users to stick around after the playoffs wrap.

Google and the NBA’s activation aligns with the broader growing interest in second-screening, or using a smartphone or tablet while watching TV. During Super Bowl LVI, more viewers were forecast to keep up with the game than in past Super Bowls — mostly texting, gaming, browsing social media or ordering food for delivery — suggesting ripe opportunities for marketers to connect with mobile-savvy sports fans. The tactic rides buzz around a TV viewing event and recognizes the increasing amount of time people spend on their smartphones, while offering inroads for a brand like Google to reach consumers with an interactive experience.

“Pixel Arena” builds on Google’s and the NBA’s tagline, “For All the Fans,” which first debuted in October 2021.

The new virtual space is one that promotes the multiyear partnership and Google’s Pixel smartphone, simply by nature of the activation’s name, but isn’t exclusive to users of the phone. That approach broadens the effort’s reach to a greater number of basketball fans regardless of their device or mobile operating system.



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