Fiba’s “Era of Asia” strategy depends on 2023 World Cup hosts stepping up

(Marcelo Endelli/Getty Images)

  • The Philippines, Indonesia and Japan have taken over from China hosting duties for the 2023 Fiba World Cup
  • Each nation faces different challenges in getting itself ready, and Fiba is expecting a greater yield from media rights for the next edition
  • Regional tourism will be crucial in ensuring Asia embraces the 2023 World Cup 

When Fiba Secretary-General Andreas Zagklis told SportBusiness during last month’s World Cup in China that it was “the era of Asia” for basketball, he wasn’t just blithely repeating what sports, business and political leaders the world over have been saying for the past 20 years.

Basketball’s world governing body is walking the walk when it comes to dedicating itself to developing its sport in Asia by awarding back-to-back World Cups to hosts in the continent. The first took place in China this August and September; the second will in the Philippines, Japan and Indonesia in 2023.

Considering that, prior to this year’s World Cup, Asian countries had hosted the event on only two occasions out of 17 since 1950, this is hugely significant. Zagklis said: “The first world cups in our history were all in South America, then came the growth of the sport in Europe. Now, I think it is the era of Asia, with two consecutive World Cups spread over four countries. We’re going from China that loves basketball, to the Philippines where they’re crazy about basketball while Japan and Indonesia are also very committed organisers.”

China a ‘peak’

Zagklis hailed the 2019 World Cup as an organisational success, and praised host federation the CBA. “The level of promotion of basketball has reached a peak with this edition of the World Cup,” he said. “We need to understand the magnitude and complexity to run this event simultaneously in eight cities, and we are very happy with the effort of the Chinese Basketball Association, as well as local government bodies.”

Speaking separately to SportBusiness, Frank Leenders, director-general for Fiba Media and Marketing services, said the activity of the event’s sponsors had been a highlight for the commercial team: “Our global partners like Nike and Tissot, as well as domestic partners like Ganten, have been very engaged and active partners in their on-the-ground efforts in China, as well as online, heavily promoting the World Cup on their platforms in the last six months.”

Zagklis said Fiba was happy with the outcome of format changes introduced at the competition. The event was moved to a non-football World Cup year for the first time, in order to increase its visibility.

The tournament featured 32 teams, up from 24. And changes to Fiba qualification criteria meant the seven best-performing teams directly qualified to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games , while the 16 next best classified teams at the World Cup will get the chance of qualifying through one of the 4 Fiba Olympic Qualifying Tournaments 2020.

Two selected teams per region will also take part in the Fiba Olympic qualifying tournaments, for a total of 24 teams divided in 4 tournaments of 6 teams each, with the winner of each tournament qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

The 2023 opportunity

The 2023 World Cup offers potential for further advancement for basketball in Asia, and presents some significant challenges. Zagklis said: “This opportunity has to be used to open up Asian basketball to the world, and allow the region’s basketball associations and teams to learn from other parts from the world, and develop [their] own style. Asia needs to step on the trampoline that we have placed with these two World Cups and jump to the top.”
The three host countries exhibit an interesting diversity of opportunities and challenges when it comes to hosting the event.

“Each country is different,” Leenders says. “Infrastructure-wise, in Indonesia and the Philippines the arenas are there, but it is also about training facilities, transportation, and, ultimately, if you’ve got a competitive team.

“Japan and the Philippines both played in the 2019 China World Cup but have some way to go to be competing at the top level. Indonesia is a completely different story – big country, but they really are a few steps further back in terms of development.”

Juancho Hernangomez of Spain holds the winning trophy after defeating Argentina during the final of 2019 Fiba World Cup (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

National teams

Strong performances by the host nations will be hugely influential in driving the local interest required to really make the tournament a success. Their performances at this year’s World Cup will have to be improved upon. Indonesia failed to qualify, and Japan and the Philippines finished last and second last, respectively?.

Fiba has been working on raising the standard of the elite game in Asia. In 2017, it merged its separate Asia and Oceania championships into a single Asia Cup, at men’s, women’s and youth levels. Zagklis told SportBusiness this was aimed at ensuring the regular, top-level competition that “is crucial to the development of players”.

Basketball is by far the biggest sport in the Philippines, but the game has been held back by a lack of high-quality training facilities. Last week, Senator Sonny Angara, the chairman of Philippines basketball federation, Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP), pushed for more world-class sports training facilities in the country. He told local media: “We obviously lack sports facilities compared to our neighbouring countries like Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand. We already started giving support at the grassroots level. But still, it is not enough.”

In Japan, interest in the national team will be helped by the emergence of young star Rui Hachimura, who in June was selected by the Washington Wizards with their ninth pick in the 2019 NBA draft. Hachimura and fellow NBA player Yuta Watanabe, who was signed last year on a two-way contract as an undrafted rookie by the Memphis Grizzlies, have brought fan interest and marketing momentum back to the sport in idol-crazy Japan.

In addition, Japan’s B-League, a professional men’s basketball league that began in 2016 and is run by the Japan Professional Basketball League, has gained significant traction in recent years.

A savvy “smartphone-first” marketing plan has successfully attracted younger demographics, and the championship game this year attracted a crowd of more than 12,000.
Indonesia’s large population – 264m, compared to 127m in Japan and 104.9m in the Philippines – and relatively well-developed domestic league indicates strong potential for basketball’s growth.

But the national team has traditionally punched below its weight. Its best finish at continental level was fourth place in 1967, and the last time it qualified for the Fiba Asia Cup was in 2014, when it finished ninth out of 10 teams (the 10th team, Uzbekistan, withdrew from the competition and were not replaced).

Andray Blatche of the Philippines National Team looks on during the classification round of the 2019 Fiba World Cup between Iran and Philipines (Photo by Xinyu Cui/Getty Images)

Logistical matters

Japan’s infrastructure for 2023 will be ready years ahead of schedule, thanks to its hosting of the 2019 Rugby World Cup followed almost immediately by the 2020 Olympics. The 10,000-seat Okinawa Arena, earmarked as the country’s main venue for the World Cup, is due to be completed next year. The arena will also serve as the new home arena of B-League team Ryukyu Golden Kings.

Indonesia’s Istora Gelora Bung Karno stadium in Jakarta was recently renovated for the 2018 Asian Games and will hold the tournament’s later rounds. But the country offers up other logistical challenges. Jakarta’s notorious traffic could make getting to and from the stadium a headache for teams, fans and media, unless the organisers find a solution. The city is also an air pollution hotspot, and experiences an annual haze caused by forest fires.

The Philippines, being the most basketball-crazy of the three host nations, will face no issues with the logistical aspects of hosting the World Cup. The Araneta Coliseum will  be a primary venue along with the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City, the PhilSports Arena in Pasig City and the sprawling Philippine Arena in Bocaue City. The combined seating capacity of all four venues is a staggering 106,000, which is very impressive when compared to the 71,500 seating capacity of all six venues used in the 2014 Spanish World Cup.

JAKARTA, INDONESIA: Transportation experts have been warning that Jakarta could experience total gridlock. (Photo by Ed Wray/Getty Images)

Hosting the event across three countries poses an obvious travel challenge, but Fiba is hopeful the tournament will spur a wave of tourism. Zagklis said the region’s well-developed air travel infrastructure will underpin this: “We know very well how far it is to travel in Asia, but it is easier and more cost-efficient with the number of air hubs and airlines that can service fans in the region from game-to-game. This is also why the decision to hold the first-ever co-hosted World Cup in these three countries is sound.”

At the 2019 World Cup, Fiba road-tested a ‘Follow Your Team’ ticket that included flights, tickets, accommodation, and sightseeing and supporters’ events. Zagklis says it attracted significant numbers of buyers and believes there is potential for a similar programme at the next World Cup.

The intervening period

Fiba says it is keeping its eye on the ball in Asia in between the two World Cups, to ensure basketball sustains its momentum. Zagklis said: “What happens in Asian basketball between the World Cups is very much our focus. It’s not an accident we have offices in Beijing, Singapore, Beirut and the Gold Coast, all strategically located for maximum geographical coverage and to better service national federations.”

Stimulating the women’s game in the continent is also on the to-do list. Zagklis said: “In Asia, you have China and Japan essentially being able to beat everyone else, and then a mid-tier pool of countries which is not as deep as we would like it to be.

SHANGHAI, CHINA : Japanese fans reacts before the start during the 1st round Group E match between USA and Japan of 2019 FIBA World Cup at the Oriental Sports Center on September 5, 2019 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

“We have 44 countries in this continent, and of course some of them are not where they should be. Ultimately, our aim is to try and bring women’s basketball in the region on par in terms of organisation and development, with men’s basketball. This can only happen by stimulating more opportunities for competition.”

With every other sport and rights-holder also looking to make inroads in Asia, Fiba will have to work hard to keep basketball on an upward trajectory in the continent.

But two World Cups in a row there undoubtedly strengthen its cause. With China 2019 complete, it’s half-time in an unprecedented eight-year window of opportunity and the federation is aiming for a powerful performance in the second half.

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