In January, Meta announced that the company had expanded its partnership with the NBA to offer 52 games in VR (virtual reality). According to TechCrunch, the first local game available on VR was the Los Angeles Clippers vs. Cleveland Cavaliers game on Sunday, January 29.
As an avid follower of the NBA and someone who enjoys watching basketball games in-person, I had to test this out. The idea, according to Meta, is to give people who own a Meta Quest headset a “front row seat to NBA games,” with additional access to select WNBA, NBA G League and NBA 2K League games over the course of the season.
Considering one front row ticket to watch the Los Angeles Clippers can amount to $600, the price of a Meta Quest headset at $399, seemed like a steal.
Once I figured out how to maneuver through the app, I was prompted to download the Xtadium app, which is Meta’s co-watching sports hub where fans can watch games.
In addition to NBA games, Xtadium also gives Meta Quest owners access to on-demand versions of Nascar races, mixed martial arts (MMA) matches and live coverage of matches from the All American Cup – Team Tennis Tournament.
But on Sunday morning, an hour before the game, when I turned on the headset and clicked into Xtadium, I was faced with bold capital text that read “GEO-RESTRICTED.” Basically, since I live in Los Angeles, where I should add, is home to the greatest number of Clippers fans, VR access to watch the game was prohibited.
Why was this happening?
The reason for these geo restrictions is due to the deals that each basketball team has with various networks. For instance, the Los Angeles Clippers partnered with Bally Sports SoCal, who is the only network that has the rights to broadcast, televise and steam Clipper games during the regular season. This means that no other network or platform is allowed to televise the game, including Meta’s partnership with the NBA’s League pass platform.
So I reached out to Meta for confirmation and one Meta representative told me, “unfortunately, those geo-restrictions won’t be lifted in the future. We abide by NBA League Pass rules and those are the rules they have put in place.”
According to the Sporting News, the same restrictions that apply to Angelenos also exist within 28 other cities that host the NBA's 30 franchises. There are certain blackout restrictions that exist in the U.S. and Canada because local and national content providers in the U.S. have certain exclusive rights to televise live games and content.
The NBA website also states that locally blacked out games will be available 3 days after the live broadcast. But who wants to watch a basketball game 3 days after everyone else has seen it?