The NBA in India

Over winter break, I had the opportunity to go to India with the Business School to study Indian business and culture.  While in Chennai and Madurai, we were able to visit the Chennai Open, the tennis tour event, and take part in some Indian sporting culture by playing cricket and kabbadi.  As someone interested in the NBA, it was noticeable how absent basketball was.  Besides a random Bobcats-Knicks game on TV and two courts (with no one on them), there was no basketball to be found.  As the NBA begins to promote the game in India, it will be interesting to see how well it catches on with the general public.  The NBA has already launched an NBA India web site, to help promote the game there and plans to open an office in the future.  Will the NBA be successful in India?  There are reasons to be optimistic.

With India’s economy growing, the culture of India has been changing.   The younger generation is more urban and western in culture.  This generation is breaking from the traditions of the older generations, such as arraigned marriages and clothing options.  This generation also has higher incomes, due to many countries looking to India for talent and customers.  With this growing income will come a larger piece of entertainment spending.  If the NBA positions itself correctly, it can capture some of this new market.

India already has a large sports spectator base with cricket.  Cricket is by far the most popular sport in India.  In 2008, the Indian Premier League was established, based on the Twenty20 style of cricket.  This league has been very popular, since it condenses a cricket game, which previously could take days, into a few hours.  The question is which sport will become number two?

The NBA’s biggest competitor in this would seem to be soccer.  As noted in Slam Magazine, The English Premier League has started to gather momentum in India, along with other top European leagues.  In my time there, a number of stores were filled with international soccer jerseys.

The key to which sport becomes number two may be which sport produces the first Indian star.  Two markets similar to India for basketball would be China and Brazil.  China is similar due to the large number of people and the growing economy, allowing a new middle class to afford to watch and play the game.  Brazil is similar in that one sport was dominant (soccer) and basketball was able to gain a foothold as a strong secondary sport.  However, both China and Brazil had something India does not have yet:  a national star.  In China, that is Yao Ming, whose jump to the NBA has made the China market much more accessible and has prompted much growth in basketball participation among youths.  In Brazil, the star was Oscar Schmidt.  His playing years in the 80’s and 90’s made Brazil a strong international team, and led many youths to play including Nene Hilario and Leandro Barbosa.  Therefore, the key to the NBA’s success may be to cultivate a strong playing culture, in order to produce a star that will attract the Indian audience.

Next week, I will look at the New Jersey Nets marketing campaign for the year.