How the NBA Uses Big Data for a Better Fan Experience

At the Interop conference, the NBA's CIO provides details on the IT behind North America's professional basketball league.

LAS VEGAS—With the National Basketball Association playoffs in full swing, fans can't seem to get enough of the league's players and action. And so behind the scenes, the NBA is managing a mountain of player and game information for its millions of fans. In a keynote address on April 27 at the InformationWeek Conference, co-located with the Interop conference here, Michael Gliedman, CIO of the NBA, detailed the technology behind the immersive analytics and video replay technology used by the basketball league.

Over the years, there have been many changes in the NBA, among them—in the past decade in particular—an acceleration in the data consumed and delivered by the league, according to Gliedman (pictured), who has been CIO of the NBA for 16 years. One result of all that data is the site, which provides detailed play-by-play statistics, he said.

"Where it all starts is at the court side, where we have three data input laptops and we have stats input people looking at a drawing of the court, and he or she will enter the player name, play type and point on the court," Gliedman said. "We do that throughout a game, and all that data comes back live into a database."

The NBA makes use of an SAP HANA database back end, Gliedman said, and all of the data entry points are enhanced with what he refers to as "sport view" data, which is video from live cameras. Those live cameras capture all 13 people who are on an NBA basketball court at the same time.

"There are six cameras in every arena, capturing players, the ball and the officials all running up and down the court," Gliedman said.

The NBA's system tags each entity on the court, and all the data is brought back in real time and analyzed. Gliedman explained that there are humans involved in the process to help continuously fine-tune the algorithm that helps analyze what actually happened in any given basketball play.


Video management is another large task that Gliedman manages with the NBA's IT infrastructure.

"We have a very large digital media management system that we have built over the last decade or so," Gliedman said. "We have software that we have used for years that has the ability to look at large files and goes to an index point in the video and can extract just the 30 seconds that we want."

The size and scope of the NBA's video collection efforts is large. The NBA captures 160GB of data per video angle for each game, Gliedman said, adding that the NBA gets 12 video angles per game, and sometimes there are as many as 15 NBA games going on at the same time.

From a networking perspective, the NBA has a 10 Gigabit Ethernet link between each NBA arena and the NBA data center in New Jersey. Gliedman emphasized that it is the power of the SAP HANA database that makes the NBA stats site respond quickly.

"You and 20,000 of your best pals can be doing different queries at the same time," he said. "We have the whole history of the NBA there."

Although the NBA manages a large volume of data, Gliedman said that it doesn't have a big data problem.

"We collect a lot of data elements, but it's not big data in a traditional big data sense; it's big data because we want to be able to manipulate it so quickly," he said. "The video is big. We probably have 25 petabytes of video."

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.