NBA moves to monetize archive

The NBA has embarked on an experiment to see if sports fans will pay to collect clips from its vast archive of basketball games. Success could spawn similar projects and translate into a major new revenue source for professional sports.

Fans of NBA teams can now download, for $3 each, playoff games from this season and last. In addition to single games — which come without commercials or timeouts and feature league announcers — fans can download an entire series for $13, or all playoff games for $80.

Steve Grimes, the NBA’s VP of interactive services, told “The New York Times” that early sales have been “promising,” with the series between the Golden State Warriors and the Dallas Mavericks having sold well, as well as the final game from last year’s championship series between the Miami Heat and the Mavericks.

The NBA’s online download store is the result of a continuing project to digitize its vast archive. For now, users can search clips, but that will soon change, with metadata allowing users to search within video for specific highlights, plays and actions by individual players.

Steve Hellmuth, an NBA senior VP, told the newspaper that employees are now breaking down game films and logging events. There are about 500 highlights in each game, and because only humans can log these events, the tagging process is labor intensive.

The league, he said, has about 40,000 games on tape in its archive, mostly from 1990 and later, and about 3800 have been logged. “We’re getting slowly to our older games, but we’ll be focused 100 percent on that this summer,” Hellmuth said. “It will take about eight years before all 40,000 games are digitized and logged.”

Other sports organizations, the “Times” reported, are also digitizing their archives with the intent to generate similar online sales. The NHL is digitizing footage dating back to the 1920s, while the MLB plans to introduce a service later this year that allows users to search through hundreds of baseball games.