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NBA’s multi-pronged strategy to grow in India

MUMBAI: The National Basketball Association’s (NBA) main TG is the 15–24-year-olds and India has over 500 million people below the age of 30. Many of them access content through digital devices like the mobile phone, which represents a big opportunity.

To leverage this, the NBA is doing several things from television to digital to merchandising and grassroots.

Digital

NBA has announced a partnership with The 120 Media Collective, a content creation and communications company, to operate the customised NBA.com in India, the NBA’s official digital destination in the country.

Yannick ColacoThe announcement was made at a press conference by NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum, The 120 Media Collective Founder and CEO Roopak Saluja, and NBA India MD Yannick Colaco.

The geo-targeted NBA.com will offer Indian fans access to all things NBA, such as video highlights, game recaps, scores, stats and more.

The responsive and mobile-first digital destination will also provide extensive localised content, including podcasts hosted by local basketball personalities and a special section dedicated to Sim Bhullar, the first player of Indian descent to play in the NBA—and Satnam Singh, the first Indian player to be drafted into the NBA.

Additionally, NBA.com in India will feature personalised settings for fans to follow their favourite NBA teams and players, an NBA FIT corner with instructional basketball content, and ‘Supreme Courts’ showcasing the best basketball courts across the country. Through the digital destination, fans will be able to access NBA League Pass, the league’s digital package offering a full season of live NBA games and rich archive of NBA content.

“The popularity of basketball in India has never been stronger, and our newly redesigned digital destination will provide Indian fans with instant access to NBA news and content. We are committed to the growth of basketball in India, and we will continue working with our partners to introduce new ways for fans to experience the NBA,” said Tatum.

Roopak Saluja“We are excited to be partnering one of the world’s leading sports properties to engage deeply with Indian audiences. NBA.com lies at the core of The 120 Media Collective’s engagement strategy and will be supported by robust distribution to ensure our content is seen and shared where the audience already is,” said Saluja.

Along with the customised NBA.com in India, the NBA features 19 international online destinations. The digital destination in India will continue to introduce new features in the coming months.

NBA has properties that are not showcased on India television like the WNBA. Colaco said that the site would act as a bridge.

Bollywood actors Neha Dhupia and Rannvijay Singha are supporting the initiative. Dhupia has been supporting the NBA for a few years now. “Watching live games at 6 am is amazing. When you log on to the site, it is self-explanatory. Women take longer to understand a sport. Six is there but this (nba.com) is fantastic. There is no better sport to watch.”

Singh will be co-hosting ‘NBA Slam’ for the site. He noted that the skill level required to play the game is ridiculous. One has to run all the time. It is not that one can wake up one morning and decide to play it. He is enthused about the fact that there is ample localised content.

Putting India at the centre

The league opened its office in Mumbai, India, in 2011. While some progress has been made, a lot of work needs to be done if India is to get to the size of the US and China, which are the NBA’s two biggest markets.

Therefore, NBA India has decided to report directly to New York. Earlier India, like the other Asian countries, used to report to Hong Kong.

China is the only other single country that reports directly to the US. “India is so important and we need to spend more direct time with India to leverage its potential in basketball. Our destination aims to make sure that content is customised. Stories must be relevant to the local market so that we speak directly to the Indian consumer,” said Tatum.

Television

Tatum noted that this is the NBA’s biggest revenue source. After this come ticket receipts, sponsorship, and then licensing and merchandising.

“We are thrilled with the progress being made in India. Six airs 14 games a week up from just three a few years ago,” Colaco said.

A bigger push is being made on the local front. “We have two local shows that air on Sundays ‘Around the Hoop’, a wraparound show, and ‘NBA Weekly’. In 24 months, we will have regional plays on some platforms. Having language feeds is a matter of timing,” he explained.

Encouraged by the response to ‘Around the Hoop’, the company is looking at the possibility of doing it on some of the other match days as well.

On the OTT side, NBA’s League Pass allows users to watch live games. This is also available in India and does well here, Tatum averred.

Sometimes media deals are split. The rights are bundled together if one company can reach everywhere. But there are also markets where the rights are split. In India, Sony has the linear rights, while The 120 Media Collective owns the digital rights. In China, CCTV airs the games while the NBA has a deal with Tencent for the digital space.

Competing with cricket

The situation in India where cricket is the dominant sport is a familiar one for Tatum. After all, American football is huge in the US. Baseball is also huge. In Europe, soccer is huge. Like other sports, the NBA is hoping to become the No. 2 sport in India. However, it has not set a particular timeline for achieving scale in the country.

“Our advantage is that when people think of soccer, they think of different leagues. In basketball, they think of the NBA. We know that cricket has a long, deep history in the country. We are okay with coming in and taking a long-term view and investing in grassroots.

“The NBA will not become the top sport overnight. People talk about how big the NBA is in China, but you have to remember that NBA games have been airing in China for the past 30 years. We opened an office in India only five years ago. So we are relatively new here,” he said.

Grassroots

One key focus area is that the product must be available to view, which is why the Sony deal is crucial. Digital will also play a big role in educating people. “You need to get the kids exposed to the sport. Hence, our partnership with Reliance Foundation is critical. When we bring programmes to schools and colleges, communities see the benefits and then they want more. We have a ‘Train the Trainer’ programme. Through this, our trainers go to schools and show teachers how to train students in the sport.”

The NBA works closely with the BFI and with state associations on grassroots programmes. It has done things like clinics. While there is currently a governance split in the country, having a unified entity focused on developing the game is a must.

Sponsorship

This is another key leg in the company’s strategy. Colaco pointed out that the NBA is getting Nike on board as a global partner from 2017–18. It will take over from Adidas. “Several factors go into making such a decision. One is commitment to the brand. Nike has more players from the endorsement side. It is one of the best marketers. It’s the No. 1 sports apparel brand.”

In India, the NBA has inked several local partnerships. It has a partnership with Jabong that powers the NBA’s online store. NBA products are also available on other platforms like Flipkart.

According to Colaco, the NBA’s licensing and merchandising business has more than doubled in the past year. It has deals with companies like Samsonite, American Tourister, Spalding and New Horizon. It has a local partnership in the country with ACG for NBA Jump, which is a grassroots talent initiative.

Local talent

According to Tatum, India has local talent and it is a matter of time before we see more Indian players taking part in the NBA.

“25% of the NBA players come from abroad. India is an important global market. It has a huge middle-class youth population. Basketball is fast paced, high scoring. It teaches you values that go beyond sport like team spirit and work ethic. India does not have a long history of playing basketball. But you don’t need much space. Basketball has inherent benefits.”

“This is the first of many trips that I will be making to India. We have lots of conversations on India. Hopefully, years from now when the NBA has become big in India, we will look back at today and think about the journey. That is my dream,” concluded Tatum.