The NBA offseason is upon us. Teams and the league are both regrouping after one of the most unique seasons in the league’s history. There’s the usual off-season speculation (the draft, free agency) and some unusual off-season speculation (how they salary cap will handle the dip in revenue, what the cause of declining ratings is, when next season will begin).
I want to add another item to the list: the NBA App.
The NBA app (and website), is where many of us with league pass spend a lot of our time during the season. To say that it is a source of frustration for fans is an understatement. If it were a team, it definitely would’ve missed the playoffs last season and probably would be drafting high in the lottery.
So how would I fix it? Here’s my wishlist for the NBA app heading into the 2021 season.
1) Fix the video timeline
The timeline needs a major upgrade. The scrubbing experience on it is terrible . It jumps around like crazy and doesn’t give the user a preview of where she is going. There is other cool stuff you could do here, like have presets for quarters or skip ahead to where the live game is now, but for next season, I’d focus on the ability to get to a specific spot in the game.
2) Remember my place within the game
Particularly during the regular season, I’m watching a game in the midst of the rest of my life. Even if I started it live, I might be cooking in the kitchen, or helping out around the house. The NBA app doesn’t handle this well. If I’m gone for more than a some amount of time (it feels like ~10 minutes but sometimes it’s longer, I haven’t been able to figure it out), it loses my spot in the game with a “Access Token” error. It should just hold my spot. This is pretty basic, but it would go a long way.
3) Improve the quality of the live video playback
I’ll admit that I wasn’t able to test this as much as I wanted to since I wrote most of this after the season ended. However, my memory here is that I frequently found myself having playback issues in situations where other video streaming apps didn’t have these problems. If I’m wrong, then I’ll happily take it off my list, but if I’m not, then this would be the first thing I fix.
4) Fix the blackout problem.
One of the major downsides to NBA league pass and the NBA app are the blackouts. If a game is being shown on TV locally or nationally, it gets blacked out on the app until 3 hours after the game, which sucks for fans that are paying hundreds of dollars a year for unlimited access to the league.
The best version of this would be to let league pass subscribers watch all games through the app, but that’s not going to happen — TV deals are only worth it to league partners if they are exclusive.
That doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for improvement though. Today it’s impossible to see whether or not you’re able to see a game until you try to watch it. Why not add a message in the UI that shows you that it’s blacked out and let users filter for only games they can watch? Even better, why not give them the option to sign-up for a service that would allow them to watch the game?
5) Fix or remove the “Hide Scores” button
In the app’s settings, there’s a button. “Hide scores”. This feature is a great idea, especially for international fans who happen to be asleep during a lot of NBA games.
On the “Scores” tab, this feature works great.
But on the “Home” tab, it doesn’t apply at all.
So when a big game happens, frequently the top story is the result of the game and the app opens directly to the “Home tab”. Why even offer this feature if it isn’t going to work on the home page of the app? What’s the point?
Bonus ideas to improve the app in the pandemic
The pandemic has affected the NBA like few other businesses. Because 40% of NBA revenue comes from game night receipts, there’s a massive amount of money to be made up.
This presents an opportunity for the NBA app to help make up this revenue. Here are the two things I’d explore:
In-game betting: NBA commissioner Adam Silver has made it no secret that he wants the NBA to get into the gambling business. Companies like Fan Duel are increasingly offering online gambling. Why not use this opportunity to offer an in-app experience that drives revenue for the league and makes the game more engaging for fans?
Digital fan experiences: If gambling is too legally tricky, then another alternative is to build on the success of the Ultra courtside tickets an offer virtual co-watching experience. Experimenting with things like like alternate announcers, co-watching (perhaps with current or former stars) could offer give fans exclusive experiences and be a way to drive badly needed revenue for the league.
Note: If for some reason one of the good people who works on the app reads this, please keep in mind that this is all in fun and I wouldn’t spend the time if I didn’t care.