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SBD Global/January 16, 2014/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NBA Hoping Nets-Hawks London Game Increases League's Popularity In Europe

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Nets coach Jason Kidd poses with Arsenal's Lukas Podolski and Lukasz Fabianski on Wednesday.
When the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets face the Atlanta Hawks Thursday at a sold-out O2 Arena in London, it would seem that the NBA is primed to showcase its product to fans in the U.K. It’s much more than that, however. The NBA is using the game not just as a marketing platform in the U.K., but all across Europe as well. “This game is the centerpiece of our ongoing efforts to grow the sport not only in the U.K., but also across Europe,” said NBA Senior VP for Europe & Asia Ben Morel. The NBA will broadcast the 8pm London tip-off in primetime across the U.K. and Europe. The Nets-Hawks game was the fastest sellout of the 13 NBA games ever played in the U.K. The 20,000-seat O2 sold out in less than four hours. Fans from not only the U.K., but also across Europe will be in attendance as well. This includes several competition winners from Europe who won an opportunity to attend the game.

CONNECTING WITH FANS: Social media also tells the NBA’s growing global story. In the past six months, the NBA has doubled its “likes” on its NBA UK Facebook page to more than 100,000. The NBA has seven European Facebook pages including the U.K. The others are France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Turkey and Spain. “This is becoming an important vehicle for us to communicate with our fans,” Morel said. The NBA’s merchandising sales for this season in the U.K. and Europe are up 50%. “A growing number of fans are identifying with the NBA,” Morel said. “There’s green lights everywhere in our business.”

INCREASING TV EXPOSURE: The NBA’s Global Games are not the only reason the league is gaining popularity. In November, BT Sport announced a new deal to broadcast up to seven NBA games per week, which includes Thursday’s game in London, the All-Star Game next month and the NBA Finals this summer. “This relationship is absolutely vital,” Morel said. “The amount of games they were able to commit to on a weekly basis was a fundamental piece for us.” The rising global interest in the NBA is also rooted in the fact that a record number of int’l players are in the league. This season, a record 92 int’l players from 39 countries and territories were on opening-day NBA rosters. And 60% of those players were from Europe. Morel: “There’s no question, the NBA is experiencing robust growth in Europe.”

FUTURE EXPANSION: NBA Commissioner David Stern opened some eyes a year ago when he commented on the future globalization of the NBA. Speaking on NBA expansion into Europe on ESPN Radio a year ago, Stern said, “Twenty years from now? For sure. In Europe. No place else. In other places I think you’ll see the NBA name on leagues and other places with marketing and basketball support, but not part of the NBA as we now know it.” Stern added that the only way the NBA could host permanent franchises in Europe is to have an entire five-team division there. Morel touched on some of the obstacles that stand in the way of such a reality. Morel: “There are a variety of criteria we need to meet in several European cities to host an entire division of NBA. It could be NBA-style arenas, potential team owners, but also fan affinity. That’s what we’re working on now. That’s what these games represent.”
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