The National Basketball Association is targeting India with an aggressive marketing push as it seeks to replicate its success in China, which has become the league’s largest foreign market.
The NBA will announce a partnership with Times Group, India’s largest media company, on Tuesday for a new section on the Times of India website that will feature news about the league for 12 million readers per month.
The collaboration comes as the NBA Finals begin on Tuesday night with a marquee matchup between the Dallas Mavericks and the Miami Heat, led by superstar Lebron James. Indian journalists from the Times Group will travel to the U.S. for the games and file reports back for fans in their home country.
The NBA Finals will also be broadcast live in India on Ten Sports, part of the league’s inaugural sale of television rights to the country of 1.15 billion people.
Making basketball appeal to a global audience has become a priority for the NBA. The game, invented in Massachusetts in 1891, has become an Olympic sport and inspired leagues around the world, but remains most popular in the U.S., where the NBA generates about $4 billion in annual revenues.
International income makes up 10 percent of the NBA’s revenues, thanks in large part to its 20-year push in China, where it has become a cultural fixture, and a lucrative business, with sales of jerseys, broadcast rights and the development of sports arenas.
“There’s a market similarity if you take a fan in Shanghai, a fan in Barcelona and a fan in New York in terms of how they love the game,” said Heidi Ueberroth, president of the NBA’s international operations.
The league also seeks to emphasize its multinational roster, with 86 non-U.S. players from 40 different countries, including several playing in the Finals. “They’re impact players and all-star players,” said Ms Ueberroth.
While basketball’s popularity in China was aided by the success of Yao Ming, the 7 feet 6 inches (2.29 meters) player for the Houston Rockets, no Indian national has played in the NBA.
Moreover, India is notoriously mad about cricket. “You have to have a grassroots component, it can’t just be marketing,” said David Rogers, executive director of Columbia Business School’s Center on Global Brand Leadership.
The NBA has sent superstars such as the Orlando Magic’s Dwight Howard to India to train the national team and work with teams from the Mahindra NBA Challenge, a community league the NBA help set up in Indian cities. It has also sent “basketball in a box” kits to 500 schools, in the hope of cultivating a new generation of fans, despite the intense heat which limits schools’ participation.