NBA hopes to jump higher with basketball in India

MUMBAI: India has always been a sports obsessed nation. While the definition of “sports” was so far limited to a collective few like cricket and football, emerging focus on kabaddi, badminton and tennis through upcoming popular leagues, is fast changing this existing notion of what comprises sports.

Carving an audience for itself is another emerging sport: The National Basketball Association.

Popular as NBA India, the sport has found a growing audience in the country thanks to the multiple activities it has been pursuing for creating a large fan base both at the grassroots level as well as on the digital front.

Leading NBA India as its managing director is the young, dynamic and former university level basketball player, Yannick Colaco who oversees NBA's India business, while also leading its growth plans with focus on growing the game of basketball in India from the bottom -up.

Having begun his career in 2001 with IMG, Colaco has extensively covered the sports industry in a number of roles like acquisition, sales, world feed production and global rights licensing.

It’s been a long journey for NBA India. The property has been trying to build a massive fan base across the nation since its inception in 2011. When asked how the journey for the sports so far been, Colaco enthusiastically says, “Since its inception in India in October 2011, NBA has stayed focused on growing the game as well as the fan base."

He further adds, "In a short period, we’ve already had tremendous success in staging over 500 events across 10 cities, providing unprecedented access to our game through television, social media and digital, and in distributing our merchandise through retail stores."

As a true testimony of the growing audience for NBA, "we’ve seen participation in our events double, our merchandise sales double, our viewership on media platforms grow by over 200 per cent, and our social media following increase by over 450 per cent,” informs Colaco.

With NBA India and Multi Screen Media (MSM) signing a three year television agreement in 2012, the official broadcast partner for the game currently is Sony Six. Commenting on the association, Sony Six business head Prasana Krishnan says, “NBA has a long term potential in India. The infrastructure availability is more when it comes to basketball in India as it requires minimal investment. Our alliance aims at improving the coverage and visibility of the sport. And therefore all our efforts are tuned towards building it as a positive sport.”

Many may feel that telecasting basketball matches in India in the early morning slot could pose a challenge in getting viewers. But Colaco seems unaffected and says, “We’ve been working very closely with our broadcast partner Sony Six to increase the access of the games to our fans. This year, we launched the platform #NBAmorningsOnSix wherein we showcased two live matches of the season every day. This meant we were airing 14 live NBA matches a week!"

The focus was on creating appointment viewing by providing sports fans with live NBA action at a fixed time every morning. "We've had tremendous success with this. Our live game reach has already crossed 40 million viewers. In addition, Sony also broadcasts daily highlights of our games in the prime time slot," he adds.

In order to make its presence felt, one of NBA's most successful properties - NBA Jam, which was held in four cities last year, will travel extensively in four stages throughout the country this year. The game has been divided in four zones. North: Delhi, Chandigarh, Lucknow and Jaipur; south: Bangalore, Chennai, Cochin and Hyderabad; east:  Kolkata, Bhubaneswar, Nagpur and Guwahati and west: Ahmedabad, Pune, Indore and Mumbai.

The matches claim to be entertaining with DJ’s playing the best music, during the game. Not only this, for greater involvement from youngsters, the sport will be played exclusively in colleges of the chosen cities.

NBA India is doing all that it can to increase its viewership. To inspire the youth to play basketball and also increase its fan base, it has got 30 current and former NBA and WNBA (women’s team) players to India over the last several years. These include Chris Bosh, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol.  

As part of this, on 4 June, Isaiah Thomas, who plays for Sacramento Kings also visited India.  During his visit, Thomas conducted a youth clinic for the first ever RF Jr. NBA infrastructure project. Providing insights and analysis around NBA finals, Thomas said, “This is my first visit to India, and I am really excited to see the passion for basketball here.”

RF Jr. NBA infrastructure project is a joint venture between Reliance Foundation and NBA India, as part of which basketball hoops are being installed in over 40 schools across Mumbai.  Commenting on this initiative Reliance Foundation CEO Jagannatha Kumar said in a statement, “The progress under the Reliance Foundation Jr NBA program in reaching approximately 150,000 youth through in-school and after school programs has been very satisfying.  The Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA program is now providing the basic infrastructure needed to play the game of basketball. By installing these hoops, hundreds of thousands of Indian youth can play the game together and help grow the game throughout India.”

“NBA India and the Reliance Foundation are doing a great job in the development and promotion of the sport here, and I look forward to helping them as much as possible,” said Thomas. 

Plans are afoot to get more current and former NBA and WNBA players to the country to serve as role models to the youth here.

What’s more? NBA India has tied up with e-retail giant for selling its merchandises in India. When asked how successful the bond has been, the Goan Colaco quickly replies, “The response in the first month has been fantastic.  NBA merchandises were delivered to over 85 cities in the first week alone and NBA jerseys were sold out within two weeks. Jabong and the NBA will continue to offer unique NBA merchandises to fans in India and drive sales via unique digital and social media promotions.” Though the content is limited as of now, both the partners have planned to expand the merchandise bouquet.

NBA India’s Facebook page has more than 4,42,000 fans while its Twitter handle has more than 21,000 followers. It is this fan base that NBA India plans to use to create exciting contests and grow.

To engage the netizens both NBA and Sony Six ran the ‘NBA Slam Dunk’ contest on Facebook where trivia questions were asked weekly with prizes being given to fans who answered the most questions correctly.  In addition, NBA India’s Facebook and Twitter platforms were used to giveaway many pieces of unique merchandise to fans, including autographed jerseys, photos and videos.

The game has attracted not only men, but women alike: both as viewers and players. “In all our activities, we’ve seen tremendous engagement and participation from female fans as well,” says Colaco.

“According to the channel sources approximately 30 per cent of our viewership comes from female audience,” he adds.

Group M ESP national director- entertainment  sports and live events Vinit Karnik too is optimistic about the future of the game in India. He says, “NBA has come at the right time to India in terms of opportunity. Lots of schools and colleges in India have been traditionally having basketball courts. Thus already there exists a captive set of sample base which gives it an advantage. The brand therefore will have training and development ground in place and this has a lot do with our schools.”

With the growing success and support that NBA India has received within a short span of time, we can only hope that the basket of fans as well as viewers keeps increasing.

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