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Why Yannick Colaco is cheering Satnam Singh’s entry into the NBA

MUMBAI: NBA India managing director Yannick Colaco is an excited man today. The reason: Satnam Singh Bhamara has become the first Indian to be drafted to the NBA.

Yannick ColacoIn a single-sport country which worships its cricketers, 19-year-old Satnam has suddenly become a national sporting icon. Selected by the Dallas Mavericks, the 7 foot 2 incher is going to be used by Colaco to popularise basketball in India.

Colaco still has a herculean task at hand. Cricket continues to dominate, though other sports like football are gaining ground. Basketball has a long way to go. But the entry of Satnam into the NBA could just be the starting point.

It definitely is a moment of triumph for the basketball fans in the country. What Colaco is hoping for is that this news will grow the fan base for the game and the league in India.

“Our hope is that Satnam’s story will continue to inspire youth across India to participate in our great game. We will provide fans in India the opportunity to follow Satnam’s journey by showcasing his experiences across our digital and social media platforms as well as on Sony Six. We have received requests from fans for this. We plan to document Satnam’s journey,” Colaco explained to TelevisionPost.com.

Colaco is counting on the fact that Satnam’s journey will inspire the country to take to the sport.

So, who is this tall lad who has made it to the big league in basketball?

Satnam PlayingSatnam comes from a village in Punjab. At age 10, his father was urged to enrol him in the Ludhiana Basketball Academy (LBA). At the LBA, Singh was taught some of his first basketball skills and drills by former Punjab basketball coach and Sports Authority of India director Dr Sankaran Subramanian.

As Satnam became familiar with the NBA, he looked up to stars like Kobe Bryant. Yao Ming and Dwight Howard also influenced him. In 2009, he received an invitation to try out for the Indian youth national basketball team, who were set to play at the 2009 Fiba Asia Under-16 Championship in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. However, he struggled. He has also represented the India national basketball team at the 2011 Fiba Asia Championship and the 2013 Fiba Asia Championship.

Things started changing in 2010 after IMG signed a partnership with Reliance Industries to form IMG Reliance. Their first move was to sign a 30-year contract with the Basketball Federation of India (BFI). The aim was to improve the sport at the grassroots level.

nba-logoSatnam led the Punjab state youth team to a national championship in June 2010. Hence, the BFI chose him to play at an NBA Basketball without Borders camp in Singapore. BFI chief Harish Sharma had him play against members of the Indian national team, and he managed to compete with them. Sharma recommended Satnam for an IMGR scholarship, but at age 14, he was too old.

Sharma felt that Satnam could be India’s answer to Yao Ming. Troy Justice, who directed basketball operations for the NBA in India, also visited Punjab and discovered Satnam at the NBA Mahindra Challenge.

Satnam was awarded a scholarship under the IMGR basketball training academy and moved to Bradenton, Florida in September 2010. Despite knowing no English, he was one of 29 student-athletes to be selected to train at IMG Academy. However, because of his marks, he was unable to receive any scholarships to play in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

In April 2015, after not receiving the academic scholarships to play in the NCAA, Satnam declared for the 2015 NBA draft. He was selected with the 52nd pick of the 2015 NBA draft by the Dallas Mavericks. The team is owned by Mark Cuban who said that his team got a billion new fans with the move.

Satnam became the first India-born player to be drafted into the NBA, the first player since the 2005 NBA draft to enter the draft without playing in college, overseas professionally, or in the NBA Development League, the last player to be drafted directly from high school (albeit as a postgraduate), and the first player from high school to be drafted since the league instituted age restrictions.

The Sony Six partnership

Sony SixReferring back to the NBA’s plans, Colaco is confident that the viewership growth momentum that the NBA has managed will accelerate with the news. “Viewership of the NBA this past season grew significantly with over 50 million fans tuning in to watch NBA games on Sony Six. We believe that hardcore and casual fans will be interested in following Satnam’s journey as he enters his career as a professional basketball player,” he said.

The partnership with Six is growing from strength to strength. “Our partnership with Sony Six has been fantastic. Viewership of the NBA has skyrocketed in the last few seasons due to their commitment to bringing two live games per day and other compelling NBA programmes to our fans. All key metrics we track indicate increasing demand for the NBA. Viewership of NBA programmes increased significantly and our fan base on social media has grown 400 per cent in the last year.”

Prasana Krishnan SixSix business head Prasana Krishnan said that local heroes are key for the growth of any sport. He points out that a big reason why the NBA has become big in countries like China is local participation. “In China, a national sport was created when Yao Ming played in the NBA. He made it one of the top sports in that country. We are hopeful that something similar will happen here,” stated Krishnan.

He, however, added that it is early days for Satnam. “He is just starting his career. But certainly once he plays in the NBA, we expect to see a massive surge in viewership and interest. Already we have growth in merchandise sales of basketball in the past few days. But you have to give Satnam time,” he said.

He went on to add that some sports have suffered in India because heroes have not been created for a long time. An entire generation of viewers have missed out on seeing heroes in those sports. Now though efforts are on to revive those sports.

Cross-country appeal

For the NBA, the appeal is growing beyond the metros. Colaco added that the NBA has seen growth in viewership of games across both Tier I and Tier II markets. “Over 25 per cent of our players come from outside the US, which illustrates that the NBA is a truly global league today.”

“We continue to focus on Tier I and II markets. These have shown strong basketball participation and growth in viewership of the NBA. We see great demand for our programmes from all corners of India, which is why we have expanded our grassroots initiatives so aggressively. There is great appetite for high-quality basketball programmes from schools, coaches, parents and youth across the country,” Colaco said.

Boost for local content on Six

Krishnan noted that Sony has partnered with the NBA to create several innovative local programmes for fans. “This past season we launched ‘NBA Weekly’, a localised weekly highlight show that provided fans a snapshot of the past week’s action, what to look forward to and highlights of the NBA’s initiatives in India. In addition, Sony has created content around the many NBA and WNBA players who have visited India. Local content provides fans in India the opportunity to further engage with the NBA and more closely follow their favourite teams and players.”

No language feeds

So far, the NBA has not launched a localised language feed. “We continue to work with Sony to determine the best way to deliver our product to our fans,” said Colaco. Meanwhile, the digital front is an area that the NBA is looking at closely. It has a global ‘Game Time’ app for fans. It also offers a ‘League Pass’ subscription service globally.

Like other media companies, the NBA in India is focused on giving fans the content they want in the format they are most comfortable with. In the off-season, the NBA will see how it can service its consumers better in the digital area. This will be important considering 4G is coming.

Appetite for new content

Last year the NBA had commissioned a large, multi-city research project. It was designed to better understand the current fan base and the interests of Indian sports fans.

“The research has shown that Indian youth are seeking new and exciting forms of sports and entertainment, and that they continue to access content more and more on mobile platforms. These factors reinforce our belief that there is tremendous long-term opportunity for the NBA. Besides, the research showed that Indian youth identify the NBA and our players as exciting, trendy, and aspirational,” Colaco explained at length.

The merchandise plan

The NBA continues to work with its global and local merchandising partners to bring merchandise to fans. “We launched NBAStore.in, our local e-commerce site in partnership with Jabong, a little over a year ago and the response has been amazing. NBA merchandise has been delivered to over 400 cities across India and our e-commerce sales have grown 200 per cent over the last year. We will continue to work with Jabong to bring the best NBA merchandise to our fans including new and exclusive products,” said the MD.

Long-term vision

The NBA has a long-term vision to grow the game and build the league’s fan base in the market. “We continue to grow the scope and scale of our two pillar grassroots initiatives—Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA and NBA Jam,” said Colaco.

So what is the game plan to grow these initiatives this year? The NBA India boss said, “The plan is to expand the number of cities where these events can take place as well as activities for players and fans. The NBA continues to engage with like-minded brands to create partnerships to grow the game and bring the NBA experience closer to fans. We currently have strong partnerships with Sony Six, Reliance Foundation, Jabong, Adidas, Samsonite, Nike and Sap.”

He went on to note that over one million youth have participated in the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA programme since 2013 and over 1,000 coaches have been trained across eight cities. In addition, more than 15,000 basketballs have been donated and 300 rims installed at participating schools.

“We expect these figures to double as we expand the programme later this year. In 2014, approximately 3,000 teams participated in NBA Jam across 16 cities. We anticipate close to 4,000 teams will participate in the expanded 2015 programme. Moreover, we will continue to train local coaches and provide players with opportunities to maximise their potential,” Colaco said.

Learning from other markets

The NBA has grown in markets like Japan where it was not too popular earlier. Asked about the lessons learnt from that strategy in India, Colaco noted that the NBA is a global league with 14 offices around the world dedicated to growing the game and building the fan base. “We continue to work with our offices around the world to determine best-practices and appropriate strategies to grow the game and our business,” he maintained.