When Ball Is Life, #TwitterNBAShow Provides Alternative Broadcast

Danny Leroux didn’t expect much from a one off meeting with Twitter prior to the 2016-17 NBA regular season. The genesis of the sit-down in San Francisco for Leroux and his now #TwitterNBAShow counterpart Nate Duncan and the company was around a possible studio show, where Leroux and Duncan would provide insightful commentary and analysis.

As Leroux recalled the meeting, he explained that everyone was immediately “on the same wavelength” for what would originally be a halftime and postgame NBA-themed broadcast.

“We hit the ground running,” Leroux told Sports Business Chronicle last month, which included 10 to 15 shows on Periscope between December 2016 and February 2017, with Twitter providing support and promotion for #TwitterNBAShow.

He and Duncan highlighted one digitally-centric broadcast — retired tennis star Andy Roddick’s Periscope live stream during the 2016 U.S. Open — as a jumping off point for the duo and a format that piqued their interest for what could be created for basketball. Bigger notes, more analysis and an interactive fan element were all initial points of focus with the NBA show.

On Feb. 12, 2017, with the New York Knicks hosting the San Antonio Spurs, Duncan decided to experiment with a live call of the game on Periscope. What Duncan quickly found was an engaged audience of NBA enthusiasts who enjoyed the alternative broadcast.

“It’s a way to move beyond the traditional play-by-play format,” he added of the raw, unpolished “stream of consciousness” commentary that deters from a traditional call.

For example, as he described, if there’s a pick-and-roll happening, he might reference the defending player versus the offensive one. On the same play, he’ll call out a corner three-point shooter, who might be wide open if help defense occurs, all in real-time.

The Periscope show soon pivoted to live, with collective barging agreement and player salary discussions dotting the conversation. A paid intern now Tweets advanced statistics during broadcasts and splices up clips for Twitter, too. Halftimes and commercial breaks are generally reserved for answering fan questions and the duo catching up on their own Twitter feeds.

The alternative broadcast crew typically watches games at Duncan’s San Francisco Bay Area apartment. During the regular season, a typical week includes five hours of #TwitterNBAShow around national broadcasts on ESPN, TNT and ABC while the playoffs could mean two to four times more, especially in the first round.

For the regular season, Duncan and Leroux will plan out broadcasts a month in advance and during the playoffs, it’s generally a few days based on scheduling.

“It’s hectic but for good reason,” Leroux said of the time commitment for the #TwitterNBAShow. “There’s a lot worth doing. For me, that’s energizing. Especially in the early parts of the playoffs, there’s a lot to learn and experience.

“At first, the burden — if you want to call that of the #TwitterNBAShow — felt significant. Then, what I realized is I’m going to be watching these games anyway. I watch them differently with the #TwitterNBAShow versus at home. … The biggest difference between doing the Twitter show and not doing it is the ability to take notes, whether that is live tweeting or taking notes on whatever is happening, that’s really the only thing that gets lost. To do the Twitter show well, we have to be so engaged watching that it’s more a memory exercise, that’s the challenge, than anything else. I enjoy that. It’s been fun. It forces me to be at a different level as an analyst than just a viewer.”

The two acknowledged the barrier of entry for viewers to sync up the Periscope stream with their own linear game broadcast because they can’t legally stream the game alongside their own commentary. Duncan called it a “great compliment” by those fans who go the extra mile to sync up the two feeds. Even for those viewers who can’t watch the linear feed, there are some who tune into Periscope and treat the live commentary as a radio broadcast, Duncan said.

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He and Leroux currently supplement the #TwitterNBAShow with Patreon, a membership platform where patrons can support content creators. The two provide exclusive content in addition to an extra podcast, mailbag, salary cap sheets and other features for their patrons, which total around 760. Leroux, who is a contributor at The Athletic, also sometimes provides audio versions of his written pieces.

The two former attorneys’ main revenue driver, though, is their analytics and CBA-focused Dunc’d On Basketball Podcast, similar in ways to the dialogue on Periscope.

Three-plus years ago, Duncan was commuting 90 to 120 minutes each day for work in Walnut Creek, California. He naturally had the free time for podcasts, but as he said, “the nuts and bolts of what I wanted as a hardcore fan didn’t exist.”

Following a brief stint in Washington, D.C. interning with Congressman Tony Cárdenas (D, California), Leroux returned to the West Coast in April 2015, where he and Duncan decided to launch what has become one of the more popular NBA-centric podcasts.

Free agency debates, game and individual play breakdowns, collective bargaining analysis, salary structure and nitty gritty analytics discussions all fill the programming calendar as the two continue to craft a show that wasn’t initially intended for anyone else but themselves. Now, they’ve discovered an underserved segment of the basketball population that enjoys the finer points of the game.

Duncan estimated that early episodes totaled in the 15,000 download range while nowadays, Monday shows receive anywhere from 80,000 to 100,000, with others throughout the week hovering in the mid-five-figures.

In the Apple iTunes Store, over 1,300 reviews net out to a five-star rating for Dunc’d On.

“The biggest compliment that we get is people who say, ‘Oh, yeah, I was sort of a casual fan and listened to your show. Now, I’m a hardcore fan’,” said Duncan, adding that the show’s viewership has increased 85 percent since last year.

With a broadening base of viewers and listeners — ones that have come to expect a healthy dose of weekly basketball content — Duncan said both the podcast and #TwitterNBAShow’s followers have been supportive, even if once in a while there’s expressed disappointment for not Periscoping a primetime ABC telecast.

“It’s like if you’re going to a Broadway show and one of the actors or actresses you wanted to see wasn’t performing that day,” he analogized.

“They would love as much content as we can provide them, but they also understand — and I’m so thankful for this — we’re human beings with our own stuff. … I never lose sight of the fact of how lucky we are to be in this position.”

About Mark J. Burns

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