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NBA, AT&T team up to bring more virtual reality, 4K video to games

Charlotte Hornets forward Miles Bridges, shown here soaring for a slam against the Sacramento Kings, will compete in the NBA Slam Dunk Competition Feb. 16. (Photo: Sam Sharpe, USA TODAY Sports)

There could be more NBA action in virtual reality and super-sharp 4K video in your future.

AT&T is teaming up with the NBA on a multi-year marketing deal, tipping off with AT&T’s sponsorship of Slam Dunk Contest the night before the NBA All-Star Game on Feb. 17, the company and league announced Tuesday.

The media company, which has grown with its acquisition of Time Warner, plans to have events with not only the NBA, but also its other leagues including the WNBA, NBA G League, NBA 2K esports league and USA Basketball.

The deal initially involves marketing and AT&T’s presence in NBA online, broadcast and live events, but the company and league plan to explore ways to transform NBA fans’ experience watching in person, at home or on the go.

“I would say that we will be working with the NBA as part of this deal to discuss what we can do together on an innovation front,” said Mark Wright, AT&T’s vice president for media services and sponsorship. “That will have value for our customers, whether it’s 4K, virtual reality, mixed reality, just innovative ways to bring the game to life.”

AT&T owns the satellite TV service DirecTV, which currently broadcasts some 4K games. The NBA, in conjunction with Turner Sports and Intel, last year broadcast the Western Conference Finals in virtual reality and have broadcast the All-Star Game and some regular season games in VR, too, as well as the 2017 and 2018 NCAA men’s Final Four.

During the NBA All-Star Game weekend in Charlotte Feb. 16-17, AT&T will serve as the title partner for the Slam Dunk Contest and will also have a promotional presence at State Farm All-Star Saturday Night, NBA Crossover VIP experience (also Saturday night), and NBA All-Star Tech Summit on Friday.

Set to kick off its season in May, the WNBA is “an important part of (AT&T’s) overall relationship with the league,” Wright said, “so look for that during the next season.”

It is just happenstance that Charlotte, which is hosting the NBA All-Star Game, also is one of the dozen U.S. cities where AT&T has a mobile 5G network in operation, the tech company says. However, true 5G phones won’t be available until later in this first half of the year, but AT&T has brought to market a Netgear 5G hotspot. “What (5G) might mean, for the future of this relationship, is something we are absolutely going to work with the league on and our own team on,” Wright said.

AT&T, initially at least, won’t be able to execute a full court press on all delivery platforms. On the mobile front, Verizon last year signed a multi-year deal with the NBA to sell NBA League Pass, the subscription service to watch out-of-market games, on its Yahoo Sports mobile app.

Still, the goal of the two players is to bring the game of basketball “closer to the fans,” said Dan Rossomondo, the NBA’s head of global media and business development. “Our interest and theirs is on bringing the game to their customers and our fans in new and exciting ways.”

AT&T is particularly interested in connecting with the NBA’s younger and more diverse audience, Wright said. “They are tech-centric (and) … socially-engaged. They are really involved. For us that really presents an opportunity to grow those relationships, the ones that we currently have with customers and the ones that we want to grow with customers. In the end, it’s ultimately about growing our business, the current and future.”