Once the NBA season was suspended, Dean Stoyer brought his team in Phoenix together to figure out the path forward to keep fans engaged.
The Suns chief marketing and communications officer empowered his department to brainstorm, and out of it emerged the idea to simulate the rest of the season’s games on NBA2K, streamed on Twitch.
“[Social Media Senior Manager Allison Harissis] and the social team thought beyond traditional broadcast and what are other ways to give to fans,” Stoyer said. “We knew the sports world would take a timeout and how do we give everyone a way to continue to enjoy sports the best way.”
Harissis said Twitch was a platform the team hadn’t utilized the past two years and saw the coronavirus-suspended season as a way to engage while creating a more positive conversation than what was occurring on other platforms.
Conversations with Twitch and other parties, including Phoenix-area Twitch influencer Antonio Saldivar, escalated quickly and allowed the team to simulate the scheduled Friday game against the Dallas Mavericks on time. The team will continue to play out the rest of the schedule virtually on Twitch.
“We worked through the night, Friday morning, and continued to amplify it,” Harissis said. “I appreciate people coming together and rallying behind us.”
The NBA2K game drew 221,000 views, including 126,000 unique viewers. The Suns Twitch page also went from 0 followers on Friday to 4,867 as of Tuesday.
“The results of the first Twitch stream have changed the conversation within the organization for the current and future context of how do we insert that into our overall strategy?” Harissis said.
While the rest of the season will be played out virtually, it’s all still a learning experience for the Suns. Harissis and Stoyer said not all plans can be shared at the moment, but they’re working through ways to bring more value to the campaign.
“That’s what we’re trying to explore,” Stoyer said. “We entered new territory and are looking at monetization, broader engagement, and partner integration. Those are the next steps.”
Stoyer said the team has been “95% focused” on the Twitch operation the past few days and said there was never hesitation within the organization to “figure it out along the way.”
As the focus was on Twitch, Stoyer said other departments have been looking to engage the fanbase in different ways.
“It’s difficult, a lot of the ideas go to concepts bringing people together, which is counterintuitive,” he said. “We’re looking at ways with our partners of in-arena activations like a t-shirt toss, how do you execute that virtually? Extending to brands like Lyft and restaurants that are maybe challenged; trying to get creative not only around fans, but support the community in creative ways.”
Acknowledging that team’s regional sports network, Fox Sports Arizona, would have lots of time slots to fill – which also broadcasts the Arizona Diamondbacks and Coyotes – Stoyer said there are also discussions around how to bring different programming to the network.
Among the options are re-airing old broadcasts against this season’s scheduled opponents with commentary from personalities for a “director’s cut-like highlight.”
“The team’s got their brains working, how do we leverage all of the platforms,” Stoyer said. “You find new ways to survive these moments and provide entertainment and distractions. If you look at it the right way, it shapes a new way of thinking.”