Nearly a decade after acquiring the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers, Steve Ballmer is finally realizing his dream to build a bigger and better TV platform for his beloved basketball franchise.
The Clippers today are launching ClipperVision, a regional subscription streaming service that offers six channel options for watching the vast majority of the team’s home and away games – more than 70 out of 84 regular season games. The service will cost $199 per season and is available largely in Southern California. The service’s first live stream bows Oct. 22. with an away-game against the Sacramento Kings.
One of the six channel feeds will be dedicated to the team’s traditional linear cable TV coverage via Bally Sports. Two more are dedicated to Spanish-language and Korean-language coverage of live games – with the Korean team anchoring from a studio in Seoul.
Another feed is an alternative view of the game — akin to ESPN’s new spin on “Monday Night Football” with Peyton and Eli Manning – dubbed “Ballervision” that will feature NBA alums Jamal Crawford, Baron Davis and others chopping it up live as the game unfolds. Ballmer, well known for his over-the-top courtside displays of his love for the Clippers and basketball in general, will also join them periodically to weigh in.
Ballmer, who acquired the team for $2 billion in 2014, brought the same level of energy to a presentation for journalists on ClipperVision and dry run of a “Ballervision” game telecast on Oct. 9. Ballmer, Crawford, Davis and former NBA player Paul Pierce gathered that evening at a Mid-City L.A. studio space owned by Davis for the practice-run telecast as the team played a pre-season game against the Minnesota Timberwovles.
Ballmer emphasized that he has wanted to craft a multi-platform presentation for NBA games since he was still in his days serving as the No. 2 to Bill Gates at Microsoft in the 1990s and 2000s. He sees the slicing and dicing of Clippers content as a form of “gamifying” the viewing experience. He also sees it as crucial to making Clippers games available to a younger generation of fans who don’t subscribe to cable.
“Now we get to transform the sports viewing experience,” Ballmer said on Oct. 9. “And what you see here is what I would call version one.”
The other two feeds also reflect trends in sports, fandom and technology. CourtVision will offer game coverage with augmented reality enhanced real-time statistics and facts woven in as the game unfolds. MascotMode is akin to the TikTok presentation of the game with animation and emoji effects blended in to key moments (i.e. flames coming off a slam dunk ball).
ClipperVision builds on the team’s R&D over the past four years with its Clippers CourtVision service that was available to about 1,000 people in beta mode starting in 2018.
Ballmer acknowledged that it took a lot of intense negotiating with the team’s existing regional sports partner Ballys (owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group) to attain the rights to offer the ClipperVision feeds. One solution was to embed the regular linear Ballys feed into the offering – making it a rare example of fans being able to purchase access to a team’s linear TV games on an a la carte basis.
The Clippers will also break new ground for the NBA by becoming the first to make its dedicated Spanish-language and Korean-language coverage available widely via the NBA’s League Pass subscription platform.
Bringing Clippers games into the streaming future – albeit for a price – is the key to keeping the next generation of fans engaged, Ballmer asserted.
“We do have a bunch of young people who are cord-cutters or cord-nevers. They can’t be Clipper fans today,” Ballmer said. “If they’re lucky enough, they may go to game a year. But they can’t watch our games. And so the notion of both having a product that would be more available and being able to new do new things in it, those were the things that got me fired up.”
At the same time, Ballmer wasn’t ready to walk away from linear TV. Not only did the Clippers renew a multi-year pact with Ballys (which paved the way for the ClipperVision launch) late last month, the team this year also sought out a local broadcast TV partner for the first time since 2009. The Clippers struck a deal with KTLA-TV Los Angeles to carry a total of 15 games this season. As the Clippers make a push into an expansive direct-to-consumer platform, having the games ubiquitous for local fans is a natural marketing move.
“We didn’t want to leave (linear) television. And that took a lot of negotiating,” Ballmer said. “Now there is a path to market for our games that doesn’t come just from Bally Sports.”
Crawford and Davis emphasized that younger NBA players are among those feeling the generational divide because they can’t easily watch Clippers games via smartphones or tablets. Crawford will be a regular anchor of BallerVision telecasts; he has handled similar duties on the NBA’s HooperVision telecasts featured on League Pass.
BallerVision will originate from various locations throughout the season. Crawford, Davis, Matt Barnes and Quentin Richardson will be regulars but they may not be in the same location. Crawford is also joining the studio team for NBA on TNT and NBA TV this season.
“You don’t have to watch cable. You can do it right from your phone in between school or basketball practice, or school and traveling,” Crawford said. “And then you feel like you’re actually sitting there with Baron or Paul or whoever, like you’re just at the barbershop and with your guys, kicking it watching the game. That’s a different experience. And I think that is the future. And it’s fitting that Steve and the Clippers are the first to do in the league. Because Steve is a forward-thinker. There’s just a whole different way to consume the game.”
The Spanish-language feed will be called by veteran NBA broadcaster Francisco X. Rivera with commentator Roger Valdivieso and guests in studio in Los Angeles. In Seoul, the team will include commentator Yong-Gum Jeong, former Korean Basketball League champion Tae-Sool Kim, and basketball reporters Hyun-Il Cho and Dae-Bum Son.
The Clippers’ wiliness to experiment and innovate with its TV offerings has been embraced by the NBA. The ClipperVision launch comes on the heels of the massive overhaul of the NBA App subscription streaming service.
“We’re seeing content offerings that show us the potential of how direct-to-consumer merges holistically with NBA fandom,” says Chris Benyarko, who is executive VP of direct-to-consumer for the NBA.
“We’re encouraging all of our teams and our broadcast partners across the World to find opportunities to deliver content to users in different ways and to use digital opportunities for personalization. Long-term, we think that tech and mobile devices will allow us to reinvent the experience of a live game.”
Ballmer enthused during his Oct. 9 show-and-tell with reporters that he wants the tech to evolve to a place where the team can have cameras that offer fans the chance to watch the game from the bird’s eye view of any given player. He credited the NBA and its tech R&D for providing a lot of the “core tech” that powers ClipperVision. The team is also working with live video streaming provider Kiswe.
“Right now I’m thinking, how do you make this even more like the metaverse,” Ballmer said. “It’s just software, as we like to say. How do you synthesize it and let people enjoy the game in more and new and exciting ways. And we’ll see where it goes and how fast. But now’s the time to get started.”
The team is committed to supporting and evolving ClipperVision for the long haul. Ballmer assured that he has no plans to pull the plug quickly if subscriber growth isn’t robust this NBA season, which begins for the Clippers on Oct. 20 with a hometown faceoff against the Los Angeles Lakers.
“We’re in. End of story. Period,” Ballmer said of his time frame for evaluation ClipperVision’s performance.
“This is this is our life. We present basketball games to people. If we don’t get it right the first time, guess what you do? You do it again. And you do it again, and you get better and you get better,” he said. “A month? A year? Not enough time. Five years, 10 years, we’ll have it right. There’s some stuff at Microsoft, frankly, that took us more than 10 years to get right. And it’s paying a whole lot of bills for a whole lot of shareholders right now. So patience is a virtue as long as you’re willing to hustle your butt off.”
(Pictured top: NBA alums Baron Davis, Paul Pierce, Jamal Crawford and Clippers chairman Steve Ballmer mix it up on the Oct. 9 practice run for “BallerVision.”)
Originally published at variety.com