NBA leaps into virtual world

Times Staff Writer

Sports fans who frequent the Second Life virtual world on the Internet already can place bets at a sports book, join an online fan booster club and play a game of two-on-two basketball. And, as of today, they will be able to watch NBA broadband video clips, outfit their online personas in virtual NBA jerseys and be pitched by such real-world NBA corporate sponsors as Toyota and T-Mobile.

During an online news conference Monday, NBA Commissioner David Stern -- or rather his avatar, or virtual equivalent -- said the league realized last summer that it needed to move into the growing virtual world where more consumers are spending time and money.

Before announcing its deal with Second Life, the NBA struck deals to distribute its videos and other digital content through such companies as Yahoo and YouTube. “The fact is that we have to be [online] because that’s where people are congregating,” Stern said. “Our job is to be ubiquitous.”

Second Life describes itself as a “3-D virtual world entirely built and owned by its residents.” The league hopes to establish a foothold in the virtual world by making its online “NBA Headquarters” a destination for fans seeking video from classic NBA regular-season and playoff games. Fans also will be able to buy virtual merchandise in an online NBA Store. NBA corporate sponsors are being invited to use the site to make marketing pitches.


The NBA is following in the footsteps of Major League Baseball, which last season held a virtual home run hitting contest that coincided with its All Star break. At present, there is relatively little league-sanctioned content of any kind in Second Life.

That absence will be filled as more big media companies become involved, said Sam Landman, director of business development and strategy for the Electric Sheep Co., which helped the NBA and MLB establish a virtual presence.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine-inning game,” Landman said. “We see this medium evolving in a similar way to how the Web evolved.”

Although only 29,000 Second Life users were online when Stern’s online persona held its news conference, the company says that more than 1.7 million users have logged on in the last month, and that nearly 6 million have registered with the San Francisco-based company.

As for hooligans who have been known to disrupt virtual news conferences, hassle online visitors and give corporate types a hard time? Stern said that there will be “no eavesdropping or snooping,” but that the league will work with the online world’s operators to ensure that basketball fans enjoy their stay.