While its roots originate stateside, the NBA has expanded the sport and its brand across the world. Unlike its “big 4” counterparts of the NHL, NFL, and MLB, the NBA has prioritized international growth especially within the last handful of years. The three central pillars that have led to NBA’s international growth include; a retooled broadcasting strategy, opening NBA Academies, and an emphasis on social media to penetrate new markets.
Beginning with their international broadcasting strategy, the NBA reached 1 billion unique viewers across the world during the 2017-2018 season with approximately 65% stemming from outside the US. The NBA has negotiated strategic partnerships with television rights distributors across the globe to showcase games in 215 countries and 34 different languages. In addition to traditional television contracts the NBA has expanded their “League Pass’ digital streaming package to over 200 countries. NBA has successfully catered to fanbases that prefer traditional cable as well as the flexibility of a more agile and convenient digital package that can be accessed on mobile, tablets, computers, and other devices. Careful attention to deal beyond the negotiations of distribution rights include collecting data and listening to their fans internationally to cater to the differences in preference. The NBA has made changes to camera angles, subtitles, announcers, and even how the statistics are discussed during the game.
The development of NBA academies internationally has not only generated more fans and awareness of the sport but also created a pipeline of future talent for the league. “NBA Academy is a year-round elite basketball development initiative that provides top high school-age prospects from outside the U.S. with a holistic approach to player development and a predictable pathway to maximize their potential.” The NBA currently operates these academies in Australia, China, Mexico, India, and Senegal. These are long term investments and the NBA has successfully shown proof of concept. They should strongly consider entering the South American market next.
Lastly, the NBA has prioritized the use of social media to penetrate new markets. Commissioner Adam Silver discussed the importance of Social Media for the league, teams, and the players. “Social media is a way we’ve been able to infiltrate those markets very quickly with young people in particular living on social media. They’re following individual player feeds.” The NBA has long been considered as one of the most progressive and creative leagues. This has enabled them to take risks and think beyond the country where they happen to play their games in. “We realize the U.S. is a little less than four or five percent of the global population and we have a whole world out there that loves basketball and loves the NBA.” The NBA’s most recent international campaign involves the #NBATogether which encouraged its fans to share positive news and to stay connected when most of the world was in isolation due to the COVID pandemic. The NBA understood the platform it had to reach fans across the world and to encourage the distribution of content even if it was not directly related to basketball. Campaigns like this help build goodwill with fans and strengthen the brand overall.
The NBA should not rest on their laurels but rather continue the momentum they have built to develop their global brand even further. They can succeed by; ensuring television rights and streaming packages continue to cater to different preferences, open up at least 1 more NBA academy (South America), and continue to encourage social media use from the league, team, players, and fans.