Partners: Clippers Chairman Ballmer’s AWS Deal Is A Slam Dunk


Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s latest deal as chairman of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers may have some bad optics on the surface, but channel partners say it was a case of good playmaking rather than a back-court foul.

Amazon Web Services yesterday announced that the Clippers and software company Second Spectrum named AWS as the official cloud computing, machine learning and artificial intelligence provider for Clippers CourtVision, a live, augmented digital game-watching platform.

In opting for No. 1 AWS, they bypassed second-ranked Microsoft Azure, likely a sticky proposition for Ballmer, who led Microsoft from 2000 through early 2014 and saw Microsoft Azure developed and released in 2010, under his watch. Second Spectrum, meanwhile, had been a long-time AWS customer.

Choosing AWS for CourtVision was the right move, according to Allen Falcon, CEO of Westborough, Mass.-based Cumulus Global, a managed cloud solutions provider and four-year Microsoft Silver partner.

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“I don't think Steve Ballmer's involvement in a decision to go AWS is a slight to Azure,” Falcon said. “AWS is well-suited for consumer-facing services. In Azure, we see more B2B and internal business focus.”

Winning organizations pursue a vision that helps them create value, improve the customer experience and rise above the competition, according to Bill Saltys, senior vice president for AWS program management at Apps Associates, a cloud migration provider based in Acton, Mass.

“Innovation is the only way to do that,” Saltys said. “AWS is setting the pace in laying the foundation for business transformation.”

And Ballmer has a fiduciary duty to protect shareholder interests, noted Paul Vallee, president and CEO of Toronto-based Pythian, an IT consultant, managed service provider and Google Premier Partner.

Clippers CourtVision launched in October with a goal of evolving the sports broadcasting experience. Second Spectrum uses cameras in NBA arenas to collect 3D spatial data such as ball and player locations and movements, which is stored and analyzed on AWS in real time. CourtVision allows users to see real-time data and graphics as games are played. Features including augmented reality, dynamic player stats and shot probabilities, and a coach mode with plays diagrammed in real time.

AWS’ machine learning and data analytics services will be used to enhance CourtVision’s game analyses. And Amazon SageMaker will be tested for machine learning-driven stats on live broadcasts and on-demand NBA game videos.

“The combination of cloud computing and machine learning has the potential to fundamentally redefine how fans experience the sports they love,” Mike Clayville, vice president of worldwide commercial sales at AWS, said in a statement. “With AWS, Second Spectrum and the L.A. Clippers leverage Amazon’s 20 years of experience in machine learning and AWS’s comprehensive suite of cloud services to provide fans with a deeper understanding of the action on the court.”

Ballmer and the L.A. Clippers did not respond to CRN inquiries, and Microsoft Azure and Second Spectrum declined to discuss the deal, the value of which was not disclosed.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Ballmer acknowledged that making the pact with Microsoft’s chief rival was awkward.

“Do I bleed Microsoft? Of course I bleed Microsoft,” Ballmer said in the interview. “But Amazon has done a nice job.”