SBD/Issue 52/Sports Industrialists

Catching Up With NBA Global Marketing Head Heidi Ueberroth

Heidi Ueberroth
The NBA increasingly is looking overseas to grow its business, particularly in China. President of Global Marketing Partnerships & Int'l Business Operations HEIDI UEBERROTH recently spoke with SportsBusiness Journal staff writer John Lombardo about those efforts.

Q: The U.S. men’s basketball team, made up of NBA players, won the Gold Medal in the Beijing Games, and the league recently completed yet another round of preseason games in China. What can we expect next from the NBA in China?

Ueberroth: We will continue to grow the game and engage our fans in China in every way they consume the game. We have a new digital media marketing partner and a number of other ventures, whether it’s our new deal with the Harlem Globetrotters or our partnership with AEG with new arena projects.

Q: What is the biggest challenge in doing business in China?

Ueberroth: It’s being able to keep pace while building our staff, our operations and training our people. We have 140 people in four offices in China and already there is a plan to expand our base in southern China. Part of the strategy is to build and hire more people locally. We have projected a 30-40% growth rate in China and we are trying to grow our business efficiently and effectively. That’s a challenge.

Q: You recently announced a partnership with AEG to operate arenas in China. What type of activities will we begin to see?

Ueberroth: Our partnership targets an initial stage of 12 arenas and we have the flexibility to make decisions on a project-by-project basis. Right now we are working on an 18,000-seat arena in Shanghai with a grand opening for the World Expo there in May 2010. There is just a great deal of demand in cities throughout China.

Q: But there is also a deepening global recession. Has there been any impact to your international strategy?

Ueberroth: We are mindful of everything that is going on as it relates to the economy, but we have not had any change in plans. What we have seen is that interest has remained high.

NBA, CBA Partnering On
Grassroot Activities In China
Q: The NBA has had ongoing negotiations with the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA). When do you expect to have a NBA-run league in China?

Ueberroth: We already have a marketing partnership with the CBA on grassroots activities ranging from clinics to special events. What we haven’t had is a partnership to-date on the professional league. We are in the early stages of discussions, and, in the aftermath of the Olympics, those talks have been accelerated.

Q: Other than China, where is the NBA’s next international opportunity?

Ueberroth: India has been a focus for us. We are working on getting more customized NBA programming there. We did our first-ever Basketball Without Borders there this year and we had the most partner activity in that program to date. We are encouraged by the strong interest from our marketing partners and media outlets.

Q: When and where do you think there will be an international NBA team?

Ueberroth: What we do is look around the world and see where the game is growing, but it's very difficult to put a time frame on it. In the past, the arena investment wasn’t there. Now with new arenas in Berlin and London, it makes the opportunities more attainable.

Q: Are you seeking any further investors in NBA China or creating other spinoffs like NBA Europe?

Ueberroth: We have seen things starting to evolve in China where we have different partners involved in different activities. For example, we have a new partner in China with the Tom Group. They are partnering with us in within China and they have enormous resources so there is opportunity. We have been exploring opportunities in Europe for a long time and we now have five different NBA [European] offices in London, Paris, Milan, Istanbul and Madrid. There is real growth there. One new initiative is a broadband NBA League Pass in Europe.

Q: Back on the domestic front, do you see the NBA creating new partnership inventory by selling, say, a presenting partnership deal in the All-Star Game or by putting logos on the hardwood? How about logos on uniforms?

Ueberroth: We look at everything on a global basis, so we are looking to add value to our marketing and media partners on a global scale. For now, while we remain open, there hasn’t been a focus on putting ads on the floor or on uniforms. Our new partnerships have a lot of content experience and include new advances with technology. 

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