In recent times, NBA broadcasters have made great strides in enhancing real-time viewing experience. The very first live 4K match broadcast recently materialized, and there has even been a movement to tentatively coax out sports fans’ ‘inner geek’ with match stats packages such as SportVU to accompany viewing. Now, ESPN will continue down this road by debuting their ‘Virtual 3’ technology on January 30th to clear up vagueness for viewers regarding 3-point shots.
In the event of successful 3-point shots, the 3-point line will illuminate red, and will do so until the ball transitions to the other team. For missed shots, the illumination will instantly end. The clash between LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs will be the first of all NBA Saturday Primetime ABC broadcasts this year to use the technology, and it is hoped that it will enhance viewing by eliminating any mystery that previously existed regarding whether a legitimate 3-point shot had been made. Tim Corrigan, Senior Coordinating Producer for NBA on ABC, is confident that this ‘subtle’ change will bring clarity to a vital element of the game that has not been ‘consistently evident’ up until now.

It is in many ways comparable to the emergence of goal-line technology in soccer, where not only referees, but also viewers, have instant indication of whether the ball has crossed the line in their live coverage. It perhaps shares even more similarity with football’s yellow first-down line, which has become such a crucial and expected component of all coverage since its introduction in the late 90s. Certainly, if it does anywhere near as well as the famous yet taken-for-granted yellow first-down line, then it will be deemed a huge success.

Whether the use of Virtual 3 will be expanded beyond Saturday nights remains to be seen, but if similar technology in other sports is anything to go by, that decision could come very soon. Longevity will be another big question. ESPN, however, will certainly be anticipating that this could stick around for a long time to come.


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