NBA Brings Basketball to India
The Indiana Pacers and Sacramento Kings of the National Basketball Association (NBA) will play each other in a pair of preseason exhibition games this week in Mumbai, India. While the NBA preseason schedule this year includes other familiar international locations such as China and Japan, the NBA India Games represent the first games ever played by teams from a North American sports league in the country. Playing games in India is an excellent opportunity for the NBA to introduce and showcase the sport of basketball to a rapidly growing country with a population over 1.3 billion.
In recent years, India has emerged as a new market for basketball because of its large population and recent economic growth. In 2011, the NBA opened a league office in India. It is one of only 12 league offices outside the United States. Over 300 NBA games are now broadcasted in India per year, many with Hindi commentary. The NBA also opened 30 basketball schools in six cities across the country for children. Live NBA action is the next step in the growth of basketball in India. Fans will experience the excitement of watching the highest level of basketball played live in their own country. According to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, the NBA India games “will help further untap the enormous basketball potential in a country with a thriving sports culture and a growing, young and engaged population.”
Despite India’s “enormous basketball potential,” the sport will have trouble competing with other sports such as cricket, soccer, and Kabaddi. Basketball is much easier to play than some of the more popular sports in India though, especially cricket. The sport requires limited space and equipment, making it a great option for children in the crowded urban areas of India. Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadive, who grew up in India, called India basketball’s “next great frontier.” He also expects there to be an Indian player in the NBA and a basketball league in the country within 10 years. This might be ambitious, but there is a real opportunity for significant growth of the sport in the country.
The globalization efforts of the NBA have been far more successful than other major North American sports leagues. Since the 1970s, the NBA has successfully hosted preseason and regular season games in places such as Brazil, Germany, Israel, and the Philippines. The league has excelled at gaining popularity in global locations such as Europe and Asia, markets that both Major League Baseball (MLB) and the National Football League (NFL) have struggled to develop. In recent years, MLB has played games in locations such as Mexico, Japan, and Australia. This year MLB also played the inaugural London series to introduce “America’s pastime” to England. The National Football League also regularly plays in Mexico City and London. While the NFL and MLB have attempted to enter foreign markets, the NBA has been the most successful. For example, an estimated 640 million of the 1.4 billion people in China watched some form of NBA programming in 2017-2018. I believe the NBA’s international popularity comes from the sport’s simplicity. Basketball is much easier to learn and play than other major North American sports. It also requires the least equipment and cost, and the NBA has done an excellent job establishing roots of the game in foreign countries.
Perhaps, India is the next big international market for the NBA. The Pacers and Kings have been in India since the beginning of the week, exploring the country and culture. The NBA set up the first floating court in India and organized youth basketball clinics leading up to the games this weekend. The NBA India Games are an excellent opportunity to both publicize the NBA to a growing new market and expand the game of basketball.