Today, the Boston Celtics will take on the Philadelphia 76ers at O2 Arena in London in the latest attempt by the NBA to expand their brand across the pond and beyond.
The popularity of basketball has grown massively across the globe in the past decade. Preseason games in Asia, initiatives to open academies in Africa, and regular season games in London have granted fans who lives thousands of miles away from an NBA arena first-hand exposure to the sport.
The NBA only has real competition from soccer in terms of its global reach, powered by stars who transcend the game. The league is also aided by the recent emergence of foreign-born star players, like Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Giannis Antetokounmpo, who have catalyzed growth in other countries.
The comparisons between the NBA and the English Premier League, whose teams often embark on preseason tours of the United States, is clear to see. Seeing how Premier League players have received their NBA counterparts, and vice versa, over the last week has been pretty cool.
— NBA (@NBA) January 11, 2018
The NBA stars were out in numbers at last night’s Chelsea Arsenal match at Stamford Bridge in London. Celtics forward Jaylen Brown spoke about his younger dreams of being a Premier League star:
“I remember I had a dream when I was like seven years old and I played in the Premier League for, I don’t know — it was like [Manchester United], I don’t remember what team I was on,” he said, via Celtics.com’s Marc D’Amico. “But I had a dream that I was running onto the soccer field and they were all screaming and chanting my name. Hopefully that comes true, but I doubt it.”
Arsenal legend Thierry Henry posed with 76ers players earlier this week.
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) January 9, 2018
And Joel Embiid, star center of the 76ers, who grew up playing soccer in Cameroon, was chilling with all the soccer players.
Surely, London-based Premier League games will be out in legion for tonight’s game.
NBA star Joel Embiid hangs out with Chelsea and Spurs players in London 🏀⚽ pic.twitter.com/CuajicxGf4
— B/R Football (@brfootball) January 11, 2018
For NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, London stands as a sort of entryway to Europe, people flock from all over the continent to come to the game.
In this way, the London game stands as a way to get the game to all of Europe, beyond the UK. But, for as successful as the game in London, Silver has no intentions to expand the league to Europe, at least until world transportation technologies are improved. Silver told iNews:
“As much as from the growth of the sport standpoint we’d love to see a franchise here until we either completely revamp our schedule or airplane technology changes, and it becomes that much faster to travel to Europe – which is very possible too – I think right now maybe we’d increase to two games or even three but you won’t see a major sea-change in regular season games in Europe. It just doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense to us.”
While Silver isn’t convinced about expanding the league across the pond (Mexico City is apparently seen as a legitimate possibility for expansion), Silver sees youth player development as the best opportunity to reach fans in Europe.
The commissioner told i that the NBA is looking at Premier League models of youth development in which each team has an academy of amateur players. What Silver and co. need to figure out, however, is how to make it worth NBA teams’ time and money to invest in overseas player development. Silver told i:
“Something we’re constantly exploring is what is the best way to incentivize our teams to build basketball on a global basis? We’ve had lots of discussions with the Premier League to discuss the ways they do things differently to see what we can learn.”
It’s fascinating to see the NBA follow Premier League models of both reaching foreign fans as well as youth development. But not expanding the league to London does leave some opportunity for the NFL to monopolize the American sports market in Europe.
Silver spoke about this candidly, saying that the NFL schedule, where teams play one game a week, would be more appropriate for abroad expansion.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver is realistic about the NFL's advantages in terms of European expansion, conceding that "they have an opportunity potentially in Europe that we may not in the short term." More Silver: pic.twitter.com/VoSSHWGVjW
— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) December 15, 2017
Despite the fact that the NBA can’t reasonably expand to London, it’s basketball, and not the NFL, that seems poised to grow further across the globe in the next decade.