The National Basketball Association (NBA) India has partnered with Culture Machine to produce a video series covering various aspects of the game. In order to promote the game and its nuances, to make it more relevant and popular among the masses, NBA will come out with daily short-form videos covering on- and off-the-court NBA stories, including daily highlights, player profiles, on-court rivalries, the history of the NBA, memorable fan moments, bloopers and player celebrations. Additionally, Culture Machine will also produce an original long-form video series exploring basketball culture in India.
This is not the only attempt by the association to promote basketball. For the last seven years, when NBA India first arrived in the country, it had made extensive efforts at both the broadcast and grassroot levels to make the game more familiar and create aspirations around it.
As Yannick Colaco, Managing Director, NBA India, puts it, “For any sport to grow, you have to build from ground-up, that includes talent development from grassroots. You have to give kids an opportunity to play and offer a pathway to build a career. Besides that, you have to give a better access of NBA to the younger and newer basketball fans so that they can better engage with the game.”
Under the Reliance Foundation Junior NBA Programme that NBA started four years ago, it claims to have already engaged over five million kids and trained more than 6,000 coaches. The junior programme has kids from 6-14 years of age, and Colaco says that since consumption starts at a young age, NBA India’s focus is on kids, youth and young adults.
“Since then we have created the second layer – NBA Basketball Schools – which has started formal after-school training for kids who want to get better with basketball. We started this earlier last year and we will be starting about 50 more of these schools across the country in the next 12 months. About eight of these are up already in Mumbai and Delhi,” said Colaco.
Junior NBA is about teaching basketball skills in competition to the kids in a fun way. The after-school programme will help kids who want to continue with the game and build advanced skills.
The next step in the development of the game is an academy that houses 22 boys of 16 years of age from across the country, getting trained in the professional game.
“We started first at the bottom about four years ago, then we built the after-school and now we have the formal academy. We want to build and keep expanding each of these platforms,” said Colaco.
Along with the efforts at grassroots, NBA India has also been pushing the game on the broadcast front, through the telecast of its live matches in the early hours of morning. Since 2012-2013, Sony Six has been broadcasting NBA matches. Ten Sports and Ten Action were telecasting the games before that.
Recently, NBA announced telecasting about five games in the evening primetime slot, along with the existing 500 English and Hindi games each season that Sony telecasts. This season has nearly 100 live NBA games with Hindi commentary every weekend.
About the performance of these telecasts, Colaco said, “The growth rate in terms of viewership has been in double-digit percentages every year for the last three years. We are quite happy with the way the reach and viewership is growing. Last season, 125 million people engaged with the NBA content on Sony Six. Besides that, digital is a massive platform for us, including social media, which is a huge enabler in terms of reaching to the younger audiences. We have about seven million followers on the NBA and NBA-related pages in India. 4.5 million of these are under the age of 22. These can be prospective players or fans.”
There is a theory in sports that when sportsmen become bigger in a sport, that sport gets popularity and viewers both. Colaco explained that very few people eventually become a professional sports player, but engaging with the game is also extremely important. Broadcast and content distribution is not just for the young kids to look at this and get inspired, but it is also about the fans to get engaged with the game through passion and love.
“Along with fandom come greater opportunities like merchandising, ticketed events and things like that,” said Colaco.
But is India a matured enough market for all this?
“From NBA perspective, one thing we know about youth in this country is that if a product is properly packaged and if it has the right aspirational qualities, the youth consume it. We have seen that happening with IPL, PKL and many other entertainment properties around. We saw how Justin Bieber show was packed with audiences. Any sports product must be of the highest quality for the consumer to lap up to it and that’s where NBA excels. That builds demand in the market. We have seen that the consumer experience of NBA is very well-appreciated, across the academy, training programmes or the broadcast output. We have got this appreciation across the markets, be it California or India,” said Colaco.
A lot of brands are associating with NBA India, in terms of advertising on air, on digital, on ground and even sponsoring some of the events. What has been the response and feedback from these brands?
Colaco said, “Partnering with NBA is not just about visibility, it is about associating with one of the biggest global sports brand. It’s not about a 10-seconder or an on-ground association. We are quite selective about the brand that would partner with us like Nike, Jabong, adidas, SAP, ACG, Reliance Foundation and others. These are brands that intend to build basketball as a game too. Gatorade recently partnered with us to activate us through three million bottles across the country.”
NBA India has already been generating revenues through various streams. Colaco said, “It is happening, but what we have invested in is growing and building the game of basketball and growing NBA’s fanbase with long-term vision. We have content being distributed, merchandise and sponsors on board. We are generating revenues, but that’s not our core focus.”
India is an important market for NBA and the target is to continue to grow the game and build talent and to have greater access of the brand for fans. The Hindi commentary on matches twice a week was also an effort towards growing the reach of the game. “The idea behind this initiative was to engage with consumers who are basketball fans but who find language to be the barrier. We are doing a lot of stuff on digital, including creating originals as well as repurposed content. We are also going to have more basketball legends come into the market. We recently launched our fantasy game which we think will be extremely successful because of the number of our fans who engage with us and our communities,” explained Colaco.
NBA India has also launched a range of sneakers on NBAStore.in, the official online NBA Store in India.