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Volume 6 No. 234

People and Pop Culture

Ben Morel
BEN MOREL is the NBA's senior VP & managing director, Europe & Middle East. Thursday's game between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers, which the Celtics won 114-103, was the league's eighth regular season contest in London. The NBA's 11 partners for this year's game were Nike, BT Sport, Capital Xtra, Cisco, Foot Locker, Gatorade, Harman, Marriott Rewards, Müller, SAP and Tissot. 

As the NBA's popularity overseas continues to grow -- the league now has 36 European broadcast partners providing live game coverage and programming -- the London game has become a hot ticket. The general sale date for tickets to this year's game was Oct. 20, and they sold out in less than an hour. Thursday's game was broadcast to more than 145 million TV households in more than 200 countries, including France (beIN), Italy (Sky), Spain (Movistar) and Germany (DAZN). This year marks the fourth season there have been live games airing on Sunday evening in prime time across Europe. Year-on-year viewership for the Sunday games is up 25% across the continent and 90% in the U.K. On social media, the NBA now has more than 20 million followers of league and team social channels throughout Europe.

Morel spoke to SBD Global about the importance of the Celtics-76ers game to the league's int'l growth, when fans can expect to see two regular season games in London in a season and more.

On Nike's promotions as the game's presenting partner ...
Ben Morel: This year, the game is presented by Nike, our official global apparel partner since the start of the season. Because Europe is such a big market for them, they are extremely focused on the game, extremely heavily invested in the game. We've seen great success with the launch of our official Connected jerseys back in October. They're also launching Kyrie Irving footwear around the game. ... They're launching the NikeConnect app, so the people who are connected through the app and the jersey, they have a chance to tap in and buy tickets to the NBA London game.

On talks regarding playing more than one regular season game per year in London ...
Morel: We've been having one game in London for many years. We're very happy with where we are right now. It's always a great window. It's such a Europe All-Star [game] for us and all our European business contacts and fans. The amount of fans that registered their interest before tickets were on sale that were outside the U.K. was record-breaking this year. We could have definitely sold multiple times the game. But we've got a schedule, there are schedule constraints. We play many games around the world and we're very, very happy with our one game so far.

On the increasing number of European players -- there are currently 64 league-wide -- in the NBA ... 
Morel: The talent continues to be amazingly good. The Tony Parker-Pau Gasol-Dirk Nowitzki generation is now being succeeded with [Milwaukee Bucks forward] Giannis Antetokounmpo and [N.Y. Knicks forward Kristaps] Porizngis. Talent keeps on coming, which is fantastic for us, because it is a great way for our fans and for the young kids there to see that if you're good at basketball, you can make it to the NBA. It makes us connect so much deeper with our fans, wherever they are around the world. It's been a 25-year story here, where Europe has always been the birthplace of the globalization of the NBA. You could probably mark the Barcelona Olympics as a key date in terms of the start of the globalization of the NBA. ... Now, we are seeing that second generation coming in even bigger numbers. It's been quite fascinating to see. That's a great showcase of how popular the game has become, how global the game has become. This is partly due to all the efforts the NBA has made in terms of delivering content and promoting the game, as well as building the game at the grassroots level. 

On the NBA's grassroots efforts in Europe ...
Morel: Right now we're very focused on that through, for instance, our Jr. NBA programs. We've got 32 Jr. NBA leagues across Europe in 19 countries where kids can learn the basics of the game, learning how to play as a team, learning how to compete, in their respective NBA team uniforms. We've got those leagues in all major cities around Europe. This is a great way for us to make sure there are more and more kids bouncing the ball.

On the NBA's stance regarding the issues between FIBA and the EuroLeague ...
Morel: This is not our conflict. It would be in the interest of the game that the conflicts get resolved, but this is not our conflict at all.

Hangin' With runs each Friday in SBD Global.

Chelsea appointed GUY LAURENCE, who has been a director of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, as CEO. The 56-year-old, who was born in Manchester, will start work next month and take over all responsibility for the day-to-day operations of the club (London EVENING STANDARD, 1/11). ... J.League side Sapporo Consadole agreed to a deal with former Urawa Reds coach MIHAILO PETROVIĆ to be its new manager. Petrović was fired by the Urawa Reds last July "following a poor run of results" (KYODO, 1/11). 

The Australian Open "defended its decision" to ask MARIA SHARAPOVA to carry the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup into the draw ceremony, arguing that she was the only former champion who was available for the showpiece event. In "normal circumstances," defending champion SERENA WILLIAMS would have appeared at the draw, but she is at home in Florida with her four-month-old daughter (London TELEGRAPH, 1/11). ... ALBERTO CONTADOR signed with Eurosport as a cycling commentator. He will join the team formed by ANTONIO ALIX, EDUARDO CHOZAS, LUIS JIMENEZ, JUAN ANTONIO FLECHA and LAURA MESEGUER (CYCLING PUB, 1/11).

Source: UFC
CARRYING THE TORCH: Former UFC women's strawweight champion JOANNA JȨDRZEJCZYK carried the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic flame during its visit to her native country of Poland (UFC).

BEHIND THE MIC: Snowboarder JENNY JONES joined the BBC lineup for the 2018 Winter Olympics. Jones, 37, "stole headlines at the 2014 Games" when she won Bronze in slopestyle to become the first Briton to win an Olympic medal in a snow event. British Gold Medalists JAYNE TORVILL, CHRISTOPHER DEAN, ROBIN COUSINS and AMY WILLIAMS are also on the BBC team (BBC). ... RIKKI SWANNELL was confirmed as Sky TV's first female Super Rugby play-by-play commentator. It is not the first time Swannell has "contributed to the expanding diversity in sport commentating." She became the first woman to lead the commentary of a men's cricket game last year (NEW ZEALAND HERALD, 1/11).