NBA India debut: Apple to Croma, brands drum up buzz on basketball court

Topics NBA | Basketball

NBA India is running an awareness campaign on TV and digital, besides several on-the ground promotions such as lighting up the Gateway of India
In a country that has never hosted a professional basketball game, the marketing blitz unleashed by the National Basketball Association and Sony Pictures Network India (SPNI) could give several popular sporting events a run for their money. Apart from hefty advertising spends across media, an impressive roster of brands are backing NBA India  that has Reliance Foundation as its strategic partner.

On Friday, Sacramento Kings and  Indiana Pacers face off at the Dome, NSCI in Mumbai and the games go live on the SPNI network. SPNI has roped in brands such as Garnier, Croma, Apple and Glenfiddich, while NBA’s global partner PepsiCo, with its sports drink Gatorade along with eight other marketing partners have stepped up for the India debut. The global list includes 2K and EA (video game publishers), Adidas, New Era, Nike, Spalding, Tissot, and Under Armour.

In addition, local licensing partners such as Myntra, Suditi Industries, JBL and Dream11 have also jumped in. NBA products are also available in more than 750 retail stores and online.

“This roster of world-class partners illustrates the growth of basketball and the NBA brand in India,” said NBA India MD, Rajesh Sethi.  

What drives such enthusiasm over a game that has never been played professionally in the country? The numbers have them hooked, say the brands. Even without a game in India during the previous season, over 91 million viewers tuned in to the games and associated programming on SPNI, according to NBA. The NBA India Facebook page drove 1.25 billion impressions during 2018-19 and reached an average of 3.8 million people daily. 

Basketball has the youth interested, say its sponsors, and its growing viewership fits in with the rapid growth in non-cricket sports consumption in the last few years. Rajesh Kaul, chief revenue officer, Distribution and head–Sports Business, SPNI said that basketball has gained from the broadcaster’s ‘massification’ strategy, a plan to take a wider portfolio of sporting events to a wider audience. Non-cricket sports contributed to around 30 per cent of the total sports viewership on TV in the last two years, nearly double that in the previous years.

“This roster of world-class partners illustrates the growth of basketball and the NBA brand in India”- Rajesh Sethi, MD, NBA India
“We left no stone unturned (for NBA India). There is an extensive OOH, print and radio campaign and we have promoted the games heavily on-air. Along with television there is our usual thrust across digital, social media and television as well,” said Kaul.

NBA has worked to localise the game, setting up visual cues in its campaign currently running on TV and digital, #NBAInMyBackyard.  DDB Mudra worked on the campaign and as part of the promotions, projected a montage of graphics and shots of basketball players on the Gateway of India and have also set up a floating basketball court near the Bandra-Worli Sea link. 

“The festivities kicked-off with a projection of NBA iconography on the Gateway of India over the weekend,” said Diane Gotua, vice president, Global Operations, NBA. It has also collaborated with hip-hop artists across various markets to spread awareness about the game.

Gotua said that the focus has been on localisation and NBA was working closely with  Reliance Foundation to generate a global talent pool from the junior NBA programme in India. Even with the programming, the aim has been to cater to Indian audiences, she added.

“Our initiative of introducing Hindi commentary for properties like NBA, WWE and UEFA Champions League have successfully led to growth in the sampling for each of these sports,” said Kaul.

But nothing could beat the boost that the game was given by the heads of the two countries, President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. At the grand gathering in Houston during the prime minister’s recent visit to the US, Trump said, “Very soon India will have access to another world-class American product-NBA Basketball. Am I invited Mr Prime Minister? I may come, be careful, I may come.” An enthusiastically smiling PM nodded in support. Now, let the games begin.

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