NBA Looks To Boost Basketball's Popularity In U.K. In Wake Of Sport's Funding Cut
Today's Knicks-Pistons game at O2 Arena in London marks the 11th game the NBA has staged in England, and while the league "can generate some interest" in the country, domestic basketball on a pro level in Britain "is another story," according to Steven Cotton of the N.Y. TIMES. The game of basketball "does not resonate anywhere near the way it does in such countries as Spain or Greece or Turkey." It "often does not resonate much at all." The British Basketball League has "struggled to establish itself, with many crowds for games registering in the triple digits and virtually no coverage in the sports pages." BBL Commercial Dir David Dunbar "points to a government survey that says that among the country’s 10- to 16-year-olds, basketball is the second-most popular sport, behind soccer." But Dunbar noted, "The numbers drop off a cliff at the age of 19, and the challenge for us is how we stop the rot." Cotton notes one way for that "not to happen is to cut central funding for the sport." That is "exactly what UK Sport, the government funding arm, has done, taking the $13.8 million that was provided during the previous Olympic cycle leading into the 2012 Summer Games in London and reducing that amount to zero in the long lead-in to the 2016 Games in Brazil." Meanwhile, new TV deal between the NBA and Sky Sports, combined with coverage from ESPN, means basketball fans in the U.K. "will be able to see five live NBA games per week" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/17).
CLEAR DISAPPOINTMENT: In London, Rick Broadbent writes NBA Commissioner David Stern is "well placed to raise eyebrows at UK Sport’s decision to axe all funding for British basketball before the next Olympics." Stern said, "Philosophically, it is rather stunning to me. I guess they are going to give it to water polo, pony polo or maybe golf." NBA Deputy Commissioner & COO Adam Silver suggested that the decision to cut funding following a disappointing display at the London Games was "short-sighted." NBA execs "would clearly prefer a healthy domestic sport in a target market" (LONDON TIMES, 1/17). Also in London, Eric Short noted the establishment of events such as NBA London Live, as well as a recently agreed upon TV deal that will allow ESPN to show NBA games on U.K. screens for the remainder of the '13 season, "aim to help" the NBA gain popularity among U.K. fans. The hype surrounding today's game "has been enormous" (London INDEPENDENT, 1/16).
BIG-TIME EVENT: New York Post writer Marc Berman, who is in London covering the game, said, "It feels a bit like the NBA finals. You have hundreds of media from across Europe here. Players realise it's a big event." NBA Europe Senior VP Benjamin Morel said the game will be the "authentic NBA experience," with Pistons cheerleaders, mascots and crowd-participating events such as a kiss-cam to break up the time between timeouts" (GUARDIAN.com, 1/16). Knicks F Steve Novak said, "I know that our sport has a global mindset now. ... It’s a good thing that we’re a part of it.” Knicks G Jason Kidd said, "It won’t stop here. There’ll be a team in Mexico soon, too. This is heading to be some kind of worldwide phenomenon, and I think it’s great." Kidd added, "For us, this trip isn’t any worse than a trip to California. But there are other considerations." In N.Y., Mike Vaccaro writes, "Customs, for one." It took the Knicks "a good three hours to go from touch-down to check-in Tuesday morning, and that’s just not going to cut it for American teams when this is a routine and not a novelty." The logistical difficulties that come with playing games overseas are "why football seems likely to be the first American sport to commit to the Continent, with fewer games and less red tape to slice through" (N.Y. POST, 1/17). The POST's Berman also notes the Knicks and Pistons have "been out and about -- making promotional appearances, visiting landmarks and catching the Chelsea soccer match" yesterday (N.Y. POST, 1/17).