Facebook-owned Oculus and the NBA have inked a new partnership that will bring the VR company’s branding to the league’s bubble setup and playoff telecasts, starting on Monday. The deal represents Oculus’s first multi-year sponsorship agreement with a sports league. Meanwhile, Oculus becomes the NBA’s first official VR headset partner, as well as the first for the WNBA and G League.
One of the most notable elements of the tie-up will appear in 2D. Both TNT and ESPN, each of which is also deeply involved in the agreement, have been using a new sideline rail cam in Orlando, which will be called “Oculus Front Row View” during the playoffs. The NBA has not announced its plans for what the 2020-21 NBA season might look like, but “Oculus Front Row View” could extend to describe other new looks in the future.
“This view has obviously received a great deal of positive attention,” Facebook director of sports media and league partnerships Rob Shaw said. “It’s definitely in the interest of the NBA and broadcasters to leverage it as much as they can in the future.” Shaw said the sponsored angle plays into the message Oculus wants to send about providing customers unique and immersive experiences.
It also comes as Facebook continues to invest in sports-related marketing, following an MLB-themed ad for Facebook groups, the company’s first Super Bowl commercial in February, and its status as a presenting sponsor for ESPN’s The Last Dance docuseries this spring.
And while Facebook hasn’t ponied up for the most expensive exclusive sports rights, it has entered numerous content partnership deals with the biggest leagues in sports. Its current Facebook Watch media deal with the NBA expires after this season, but Shaw said the company is “definitely looking at a content agreement” going forward.
In future seasons, Oculus will activate around tentpole events like the NBA Draft and All-Star weekend. Oculus also will become a partner of the WNBA’s Believe in Women efforts and the G League end of season tournament.
Thirteen NBA seeding games were shot for virtual reality and distributed through Oculus Venues under a deal that has been in place for the past two seasons. VR games will now continue to be available via Oculus for the next two years.
“Working with Oculus on the content side for the past couple years, first as [Video on Demand] partner and then as a live game partner, a marketing partnership was really our natural next step,” Julie Morris, the NBA’s VP of media and business development, said.