NBA D-League to air games on YouTube

YouTube will air 350 live D-League games this year, making it easy to scout out the next Jeremy Lin. Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE/Getty Images

The NBA D-League will broadcast almost all of its games this season live on YouTube, making it the first professional sports league to use the popular video-sharing website as its primary broadcaster, ESPN Playbook has learned.

The league will air 350 of 400 total regular-season games in high definition on the D-League YouTube channel and through a YouTube video player on NBA.com.

Every game will be archived on YouTube to watch on demand, and highlights and other short-form content -- such as top 10 plays and features on the best players in the D-League -- will be available to watch anytime.

“When we looked at what would give our league the best platform for exposure for up-and-coming prospects, YouTube was at the top of the list,” NBA D-League president Dan Reed said. “We’re looking to really take that to the next level with YouTube.”

It’s by far the biggest live professional sports deal for YouTube, a Google-owned broadcasting site that has moved beyond personal videos to original programming and live content such as concerts, presidential debates and jumps from space.

“We want to grow our live content,” said Claude Ruibal, global head of sports for Google and YouTube. “We’ve been a great catch-up destination, a place you can go to find things you might have missed. In sports, live is a big component, and we think we can develop pretty good visibility.”

YouTube purchased the rights to the D-League games in the deal, although neither the NBA nor Google would disclose the financial terms of the agreement. The games are produced by the NBA D-League using the NewTek TriCaster video publishing device.

There will be traditional YouTube advertisements on the live game feeds, but neither side was positive how the monetization would play out in the long term. Ruibal did say users have more tolerance for advertisements when it comes to live sports, increasing the games’ potential for ad revenue.

YouTube, realizing it can’t compete with the lucrative TV deals in mainstream professional sports, wants to increase its role as a complementary presence to large sports leagues while giving smaller sports entities a means for distribution.

“There are many sports that are not really well-distributed to their fans,” Ruibal said. “I describe them as underserved sports fans and underdistributed sports. We’ve been working with a lot of sports governing bodies that have pretty good production but limited distribution -- we have the ability to provide distribution. We’re trying to be additive to the offerings that currently exist.

“We’re thrilled to be working with the NBA, David Stern and Adam Silver. I think it’s a great template to show other leagues and sports that YouTube can be additive to their existing offerings.”

The NBA has been a leader in digitally promoting its product, evidenced by a partnership with YouTube that started in June 2005, just four months after the video-sharing website launched. The NBA’s YouTube channel has more than 960 million views, making it by far the website’s most popular professional sports league.

The NBA D-League season on YouTube will begin on Friday with four games starting at 7:30 p.m. And as NBA and D-League executives love to point out, 20 percent of NBA players -- including Jeremy Lin, Marcin Gortat and Lou Williams -- have played in the D-League.