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Volume 6 No. 211
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In India, NBA Commissioner David Stern Sees Opportunity -- And Cricket

NBA Commissioner David Stern recently returned from his first trip to India. The twofold mission of the trip: Help grow the sport of basketball in that country and help develop the NBA’s brand there as well. Stern’s public agenda included an April 8 NBA Cares event in Mumbai held in conjunction with TV partner Multi Screen Media. Also on April 8, he met with the six full-time employees working out of the NBA’s Mumbai office. The following day, Stern took in an IPL cricket match, appearing on a world TV broadcast from the match. Stern shared his take-aways from the April 7-11 trip with John Lombardo of the SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL.

Q: This was your first trip to India. What were your impressions?
Stern: The people there are unfailingly interesting and proud of their heritage. They were very pleased that somebody from an American sports league was visiting them and interested in the development of our sport in their country. They are in the third-largest economy in Asia, behind China and Japan. Their growth has slowed down a bit -- it is only at 5 percent -- [but that] is a number that the U.S. and other countries would like to emulate. Their private sector is focusing on becoming an important part of the world economy.

Q: Why did you go and what was your goal
Stern: I was there for a clinic event with an outfit called Magic Bus, which is a non-governmental group that uses sports to teach life values to kids. I also spent time with our Sony Six [TV partner] people and other potential partners both for the website and sponsorship relationships. And I got the opportunity to go to an IPL game.

Q: How was your IPL experience? Had you seen a cricket event before?
It was great; 50,000 people in a vibrant stadium to cheer on the Mumbai Indians against the Delhi Daredevils. It was my first cricket match and it was a blast. The sport has been reformulated by the IPL and it is now a match that goes for three hours instead of five days. It gets record television ratings, and there were other activities that I recognized, with shooting smoke and fog, cheerleaders, loud music, and large video boards. It is a totally engaged fan base with record numbers watching on television. The good news from our perspective is that our games are on the same networks as the IPL.

Q: Talk about India within the global economy. Is there capital and deal flow there?
Stern: There is capital and deal flow. They have a robust movie industry in Bollywood. The Times of India is the largest circulation newspaper in the world. But the retail environment is challenging, from what I can read. There are 200 adidas stores, whereas in China there are 6,000. We see that as an opportunity. E-commerce is very slowly developing. Television is beginning to hit its stride, with 140 million households out of a population of 1.2 billion.

Q: What’s your take on the IMG Reliance partnership in India [with an effort to develop basketball at all levels in the country], and how does it impact the NBA’s effort in the country?
Stern: I met with representatives from the relationship to talk about ways to grow the sport. My focus is, how do we grow the sport? It is not slapping together a league. We know firsthand how difficult it is to have a successful league on a global basis.

Q: What about facility development?
Stern: It is absolutely undeveloped. There is no arena infrastructure. There is a cricket infrastructure with large stadiums, and there will be some for soccer -- but for us, there are small gymnasiums. The private sector came to us and wanted to talk about arena development. Our preference is to talk about game development at the youth level (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 4/22 issue).