Ahead of his keynote address at the inaugural World Basketball Summit in Xi’an, China, on October 3 and 4, NBA Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer Mark Tatum discusses the global impact of the league and the potential for the worldwide growth of the sport.
As the world’s paramount basketball league, how do you assess the impact of the NBA on the development of the sport worldwide?
First, I would say our game has never been better and our popularity and global impact continues to grow. Overall, fan engagement on a global basis is at an all-time high with our games watched by more than 1 billion viewers – one out of every seven people in the world. We have more than 1.5 billion likes and followers globally across our social media platforms – something that did not exist, not too long ago. We are the No. 1 team sport in China and have seen increased engagement from our passionate fans in other markets around the world including Africa, Europe, India, Latin America, Southeast Asia and more.
To help continue this growth, we are very focused on youth and elite development and getting basketballs in the hands of youth around the world through our programming like the Jr. NBA, NBA Basketball Schools, Basketball Without Borders, and the seven NBA Academies we have launched for elite players, with three in China, and one in Africa, Australia, India, and Mexico.
This year alone, our Jr. NBA program will reach more than 26 million youth in more than 70 countries. Through these programs, we are not only teaching youth fundamental basketball skills, but also the core values of the game like teamwork, respect, and sportsmanship.
As international growth is a major focus of my role at the NBA, I get the opportunity to travel the world throughout the year. This past year I was in Africa, China, Mexico and London for NBA games that were all sold out, packed with fans. Bringing the live game experience to our fans around the world, and seeing their excitement not only in the arena but throughout the city, is unbelievable to witness firsthand. It’s easy to see the impact our game is having.
What does the presence of players of so many different nationalities add to the NBA brand?
We are thrilled to have a truly global league, with 25 percent of our rosters made up of players from outside the United States. This past season, we had 108 international players from a record 42 countries and territories on opening-night rosters, many who played significant roles for their teams.
It’s a historic time as we have international legends with storied careers such as Dirk Nowitzki, Manu Ginobili, Pau Gasol, and Tony Parker, who are sharing the court with the next generation of international stars including Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kristaps Porzingis, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
These incredibly talented international players in the NBA are bringing exciting elements and style to the court, and they’re driving the growth of our game with fans at home, and around the world.
Where (regionally) will the growth in basketball come from and why?
While we are excited about the international growth of the sport over the last few decades, especially in China, we know there’s so much more opportunity for the game to grow in many other international markets.
We have a long history in China. Fans in China are passionate about basketball as more than 300 million people play the game there. Along with our Jr NBA leagues and NBA Academies, we are working with the Chinese Ministry of Education, Chinese Basketball Association and Yao Ming to grow the game at all levels. Additionally, we have great broadcast partners and are proud to have just completed our 31st season with CCTV and 21st season with SMG/BesTV. Tencent, the league’s largest international partner, streams an entire season of live games and content to hundreds of millions of users on Tencent platforms each year. This October we will be playing our 25th and 26th NBA games in the country since 2004, with 17 NBA teams participating.
Another key region is India, which has nearly 1.3 billion people and the potential to be the next China for the NBA. The Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA program in India has reached more than 6 million youth and trained more than 5,000 physical education instructors nationwide since its launch in 2013. In May 2017, we opened The NBA Academy India, and recently had our Basketball Without Borders Asia camp there for the top high school age boys and girls from throughout the region. This season, we brought the first-ever broadcasts of live NBA games to India during primetime, a weekly live primetime game on Sunday evenings in Europe and Africa. We are looking to bring an NBA game to India in the future, which we think will have an impact on the continued growth of the sport there.
Africa is another market we see as a huge growth opportunity with a population of more than 1.2 billion people. We recently announced that we will be playing our third NBA game in Africa this summer. With more than 80 current and former NBA players from Africa or with direct family ties to the continent, NBA players and coaches are always excited to support the growth of the game in the region.
How important is the Fiba Basketball World Cup to the sport around the world?
We understand the importance of an event like the Fiba Basketball World Cup in growing the sport outside of the U.S. For the sport to continue to grow around the world, you need more than a strong NBA. We also believe in the importance of national team competition and what it does for both individual players as well as the growth of basketball.
Specifically, what do you feel the impact of the 2019 World Cup in China will be?
We can’t wait for the FIFA Basketball World Cup where China will be the epicenter of the basketball world in September 2019. We are very excited about the expanded format that will now feature 32 countries – up from 24 – competing in eight venues throughout China. We think including more countries will help increase engagement with the game and provide more opportunities for fans to cheer on their country and watch their favorite players, many of whom will be NBA players.
Having the greatest players competing in China during the Fiba World Cup should inspire future generations of basketball players in China and around the world.
What are the key principles which drive the success of the NBA and what advice would you give to those responsible for developing basketball leagues in other countries?
The values of equality, diversity and inclusion have been central to our league since its earliest days and have played a key role in our success.
Innovation is also something we are proud of and we have a long history of industry firsts using the latest technology to enhance the game experience for our fans. The ability for our fans around the world to watch our games and consume our content anywhere, at any time, is crucial to our continued growth.
Additionally, we work with many of the other basketball leagues around the world including the Chinese Basketball Association, the EuroLeague, and the Liga Nacional de Basquete in Brazil, to name a few. Together, we all share a common goal of growing the game of basketball so it’s been beneficial to all of us to share our experiences and learn from one another.