The NBA is the biggest brand in basketball and it’s enjoying great exposure all around the world. The association has begun plans to restart overseas games and, in 2023, this will take in matches in Mexico and France.
Europe provides a huge following for the NBA and the organisation continues to build its brand here. There is, however, a clear desire to move into more testing parts of the world.
Any sport looking to gain a foothold in India will face stiff competition. Cricket is listed as the national sport and the population is fanatical about their favorite teams and players. The Indian Premier League is the biggest competition of its kind, while the national team are treated like Gods by many fans.
Against this backdrop, the NBA must compete and gain an audience. It may seem a tough task, but there is already a national interest in basketball as a whole. The country has its own league – the INBL – and the national side looks to compete on the international stage.
However, as with all countries around the world, India looks to the NBA as the biggest league in the sport. The Association is aware of this, but how is it aiming to grow the game here?
A Starting Advantage
The betting industry is heavily regulated in the country, but this is a pastime that many Indians enjoy. Once again, cricket is a big focus, but basketball is one of the most popular overseas sports.
While the betting sector has begun to open up in the USA, the new crop of sportsbooks are looking to spread their network. India, with its sports-mad fanbase, is a target area. Account holders in the country will be able to access thousands of NBA odds across each and every season.
While this directly benefits the sportsbooks, it can be an important source of additional revenue for the NBA too. Those in the industry look to raise their profile via sponsorship and advertising and we can be certain that the NBA will want to attract that extra income.
While cricket remains the national pastime, reports suggest that basketball is the fastest growing sport in India. At youth level, it’s claimed that there are five million boys and girls currently involved with the sport and this number continues to build.
The city of Mumbai is a major hub for basketball and there are 120 registered courts here. The NBA are fully aware of the interest in a country with the second highest population in the world. The potential is huge, but how are the National Basketball Association looking to spread across Mumbai and into other parts of India?
Taking the NBA on the Road
The concept of playing NBA games outside of North America is nothing new. Matches first took place in Japan in 1990, and the practise has since spread to Mexico and mainland Europe.
Following the cancellation of many sporting events in 2020, the overseas roadshow was paused, but it’s finally back on the schedules. In December 2022, the Miami Heat took on the San Antonio Spurs at the Mexico City Arena. In January, the action moved to Paris with the Chicago Bulls facing the Detroit Pistons at the Accor Arena.
Could the overseas schedule ever reach India? In actual fact, it’s already happened. Back in 2019, there were two pre-season games played in October involving the Sacramento Kings and the Indiana Pacers.
The question now is whether the NBA will return here with a full season match up.
A Welcome Return?
Towards the end of 2022, there were signs that the NBA might be heading back to India after an absence of four years. Speaking back in October, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said that there were plans to come back, but he stopped short of confirming a specific date.
Silver acknowledged that there was a great reception for the 2019 games in host city Mumbai. It must therefore be a question of when, not if, the NBA comes back.
The NBA will always have a loyal fan base in India. The challenge for the association is to build that following and ensure that future generations retain an interest in the game. Financial input from such a huge organization can help to grow the sport, and it’s well documented that basketball is the fastest growing pastime in India.
Boys and girls will want to play, but they will also want to see their heroes in action. TV broadcasting of the top NBA match ups needs to reach more parts of this vast country.
The overseas program is also vital as it picks up again in 2023. If the division is to grow here, the local population will want to welcome teams back here as part of that overseas schedule.