International Sports

The NBA is looking at a handful of Asian countries to become big markets

Blanche Lim
Key Points
  • NBA Deputy Commissioner and COO Mark Tatum told CNBC's "Street Signs" that his organization is looking to Southeast Asia for even more growth.
  • He pointed to the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand as some of the next big markets for the NBA.
'Basketball in Southeast Asia has never been greater': NBA COO

The NBA has expanded its international presence during the last few decades — the teams had a record number of international players competing in the 2018 NBA playoffs and the league has won millions of new fans across the globe.

From a business perspective, the league has already had success in Asia: China is the NBA's largest market outside the United States. But, NBA Deputy Commissioner and COO Mark Tatum told CNBC's "Street Signs" that his organization is looking elsewhere in the continent for even more growth.

"Three hundred million people played the game of basketball in China. We are the No. 1 sport there. We have a big partnership with Tencent, which distributes our games through League Pass, and they distribute some 600 games or so every year," he said.

However, the NBA is now looking to focus its efforts on Southeast Asia and the broader Asia-Pacific region.

Pointing to the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Japan and Australia as the next big markets for the NBA, Tatum said "basketball in Southeast Asia has never been greater and it is growing rapidly."

The NBA has a network of key media partners in Southeast Asia to leverage its local reach and audience. Tatum highlighted the importance of "delivering the NBA game" and its "content to fans in this region."

"We have got greater distribution in this region than we ever had before, with 25 different media partners. We just announced a new exclusive deal in the last year with Rakuten, for example," he said.

Another area the league is focusing on in Asia Pacific is grassroots development. The NBA is working with local governments in Southeast Asia to run workshops in hopes of getting "more kids, and more people playing the game of basketball," according to Tatum.

Specifically, the league has a "Jr. NBA" program that has already reached 5 million kids, and it has a goal of reaching nearly 20 million kids by the end of next year, the executive told CNBC.

According to Tatum, of the 1.5 billion social media users following the sport, "half of that traffic comes from outside the United States and a large portion of that comes from Asia."