Television

'As there is no clear No. 2 sport in India, NBA has an opportunity to take that spot' : Emilio Collins - NBA senior VP international development & partnerships

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Cracking the Chinese wall, the National Basketball Association (NBA) plans to break into the Indian market and become the No. 2 sporting power within five years.

Last week the NBA inaugurated a dedicated basketball court at Nagpada in Mumbai, the first in a series of courts that it plans to develop in line with its long term commitment to grow the sport in India.

For the first time, the NBA also opened up its live matches to the online viewers in India.

In an interview with Indiantelevision.com's Ashwin Pinto, NBA senior VP international development and partnerships Emilio Collins talks about the other plans that the company has to grow the market for basketball in India.

Excerpts:

Could you talk about the strategy NBA has employed to grow its reach globally over the last couple of years?

Our strategy starts with media. This means getting television reach and forming partnerships with other digital outlets to grow the reach of the NBA brand. Post this, we focus on building the sport out. This is done by creating more basketball opportunities. We aim at providing more access to the game like infrastructure development.

Which are your top five markets outside the US and where does Asia fit in this?

China is our biggest market. It represents 40 per cent of our international business. Over the last six years, there has been substantial growth in that market. Philippines, Korea and Japan are the other key Asian markets where the basketball population is very high.

In Europe there is tremendous relevance in Turkey, Spain, Italy, the UK and Russia. A lot of our international players come from Europe and so the relevance is very high. Latin America is a big priority for us, especially Mexico and Brazil. We have recently started to look at the Middle East.

Did the NBA see good revenue growth last year?

The NBA is growing at a significant clip at 20 per cent a year. I cannot talk about numbers, though. Asia contributes a little over 50 per cent while Europe accounts for 35 per cent. Latin America makes up the rest.

How much do television license fees contribute?

Media license fees contribute 50 per cent. This is followed by sponsorship and consumer products.

Why didn't you push NBA into the Indian market earlier and how big a market opportunity do you see here now?

The biggest challenge that we face at the NBA as far as our international business is concerned is how to size up opportunities simultaneously. We wanted to ensure first that we managed China correctly. A lot of resources went there.

India is one of our focus markets now, along with the Middle East and Latin America. The emerging middle class provides a big opportunity for us here. Basketball can play a big role in the development of sports infrastructure. The appetite for sports and entertainment is growing which has been proven with the success of the IPL. The NBA also fuses sports and entertainment. The IPL has successfully tapped into this combination.

How do Indians perceive the NBA as a brand?

The brand value is very high. We are in the unique position where the best basketball players from around the world play in the NBA. So if you grow up and get exposed to basketball, you automatically aspire to be a part of the NBA. Our players are global icons and by the sheer nature of the presentation of our game, players become larger than life personalities and figures; they are fused into the world of pop culture and entertainment. This has enhanced the status of the NBA brand.

How tough is India as a market for the NBA to grow, particularly since it is a one-sport nation?

This, in fact, marks an opportunity for us as we want to be number two. In a market where there is no clear number two, there is an opportunity for growth side by side with the number one sport that is cricket.

Our strategy revolves firstly around building the sport. We want to provide more access to the sport through infrastructure development. Then we want to get involved with the community and develop activities around it with our local partners. We can use basketball as a means to contribute to the community. Thirdly, we plan to expand the reach of NBA Lifestyle and offer opportunities to fans to experience the NBA. This can be done through basketball competitions, interaction with players and most importantly through broader media distribution.

Where do you see the NBA in India five years down the line?

The NBA has a long-term development plan for India. Our goal is to make basketball the No. 2 sport in India in the next five years.

'Outside the US, China is our biggest market. It represents 40% of our international biz. Philippines, Korea and Japan are the other key Asian markets where the basketball population is very high. India is one of our focus markets now'

You have successfully grown the NBA in countries like China and Japan. Are there any learnings from that brand building process which you would want to apply to India?

We have learnt the most from China. It all starts with spreading the NBA brand through television. This is then followed up with on-ground activities mixed with community initiatives. To make a court for the Nagpada neighbourhood and make this the epicenter of social and physical activities for them would make a difference to the community. This is critical to all the markets where we operate.

Secondly, we want to introduce the sport to new audiences. This means going into schools and teaching basketball fundamentals through a Junior NBA initiative. We also want to create participation. We can use the Nagpada court to have tournaments there.

We bring the NBA Lifestyle experience to the market. In the USA, we will be going into malls over the summer and bringing the experience to fans like slam dunk on a small court. One can play NBA videogames. You can meet NBA players and really feel the NBA experience.

Finally, we want to bring the NBA competition to India. We will bring NBA teams to compete in an exhibition game. But before doing this, the infrastructure in India has to develop at a faster pace.

How is the deal with Star Sports working out?

They have partnered with us for many years - in fact, since 1993. In addition to showing our games live on Fridays and Saturdays, they are also increasingly showing repeats during primetime. This is very important in terms of broadening the awareness of the NBA. We go beyond this by offering highlights and condensed programming that allow fans to connect.

Then there is behind the scenes programming. We focus on what our players are doing in the community and on what our teams are doing day in and day out. We look at contributions teams make in their key markets. It is about capturing what the NBA brand is about in different markets across the US.

Is there interest from other Indian and Asian television broadcasters as well for the NBA content?

There is significant interest from other Indian and Asian television broadcasters for NBA content. We are in discussions with various local Indian media outlets to distribute our content in different ways to appeal to Indian fans.

Does the NBA do a lot of tie ins for film and TV shows?

The NBA works with a variety of TV broadcasters and film studios to tie in the League's content - from product placement to guest appearances by NBA players, etc. The NBA brand and its players are a significant part of pop-culture and films and TV shows leverage the League as a platform to reach its target audiences.

Would this avenue be explored in India?

Integrating NBA content within TV and film is an important component in creating local relevance for our brand in India. We are developing strong relationships with broadcasters and film studios in India to showcase the lifestyle and pop-culture appeal of our League, teams and players. We have already begun to integrate with Bollywood. This past November, the NBA hosted two Bollywood stars - Lara Dutta and Dino Morea - for an all-access VIP weekend in L.A. NBA Entertainment documented their experience and produced a 30 minute program which aired on ESPN in India on Christmas Day last year.

Are you looking at specials which can serve as value adds?

In a game played by LA Lakers, Dino Morea and Lara Dutta took part in many activities around the Staples Centre. We produced a half-hour special with ESPN Star Sports. We will do more activities like this down the road. It helps if that many Bollywood celebrities are fans of basketball. We can create shows on the experiences of Bollywood celebrities with the NBA.

In addition, there are opportunities for reality-based content. There could be a talent search contest about finding the next great Indian basketball player. We are talking with ESPN Star Sports in this regard as well as with other platforms.

What kind of content does NBA offer on the mobile?

It is crucial in India as there are hundreds of millions of subscribers in India. We need our content using this platform. Photos, ringtones, wallpaper and then as 3G comes in, we would offer highlights. This will all be in addition to standard scores and statistics.

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