NBA to ramp up investments in India, scout for talent: Mark Tatum

Topics NBA | Indian corporates

Mark Tatum, Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer, NBA
One of the world’s biggest sports brands, the National Basketball Association (NBA) is bringing its matches to Mumbai this weekend, in order to showcase the brand in the country. Mark A Tatum, Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer of the National Basketball Association, says as the Indian economy grows, the league would attract the Indian corporate sector and viewers.

In an interview with , Tatum says as India is on the cusp of a take-off in terms of economic growth, and that the NBA would be increasing its investments and engaging with all the stakeholders, including the government, the corporate sector, and players. Excerpts:

The NBA is coming to India almost 16 years after its entry into China? Why is it so bullish on India now?

We opened up the NBA academy two years ago in the Delhi-NCR region in Noida. We already have three players on the national team for India. We're developing the elite players of the country and many of them will go on to play in the national team and later come to play in the NBA league in the US. It's just a matter of time before that happens.

We opened up the NBA’s office here eight years ago and we now have 20 full-time employees. We started a junior NBA programme with the Reliance Foundation back in 2013. In the last six years, we have engaged with 10 million boys and girls in our junior NBA programme. We are getting very high views on social media as we engage with school students and teachers in India. Even though this is the first time we're bringing our games here, we've been investing in the last eight years.

We thought the time was right now to finally bring the live NBA game experience here because the interest is at a level where the games would be supported here.  In China, over the last 16 years, basketball has become the No. 1 game.

What prospects do you see for the NBA in India, considering that cricket dominates TV ratings and almost all corporate sponsorships and television ad budgets are allocated to just one game?

The IPL is no doubt a big success story, but other games are also fast catching up. For example, the pro-Kabaddi league is picking up pace. And we look at how India is becoming more and more of a sporting nation, and how consumers are looking at sports and looking at it as a business. India will become the most populous country in the world in the next eight years. It's also one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, with one of the youngest populations in the world, where half of the population is under the age of 25. We look at all of those things. And we think the time is right for the sport to grow. And to me, right now is the right time for us to continue the investments here that we've been making for the last eight years.

What kind of response are you getting from the Indian corporate sector for the NBA?

We've had tremendous response from local partners here. We have several partners already. Our games would be reaching 100 million active users on the Jio mobile platform. Other companies like Myntra and Flipkart have also partnered with us. We have tremendous interest in addition to some of our global partners that have come on board as well.

How do you plan to take the NBA brand to the rest of India considering that a lot of sporting talent in India is coming from the smaller towns?

There are a couple of ways. One is through the distribution of our content and we have made our games available in Hindi which has received 15 million unique viewers. So this exposes us to a broader array of fans here in India, and then our grassroots programmes are Junior MBA programmes are not just in those major cities. We're also extending into different cities around the country as well. Though our academy programme is based in Delhi, we do a national scouting programme. We have scouts that go out and look at local basketball players in the local clubs to identify talent and pull national talent to the academy.  

It's almost eight years of the NBA brand in India, what kind of challenges are you noticing in the Indian market?

The biggest challenges are the marketing of the game, sports facilities and infrastructure. We need more courts, and we need more people to get access to our games in the US. Right now, the time of our games in the US are generally in the middle of the night or early morning. So we started playing games now in the US at 12:00 p.m., which is 9:30 p.m. or 10:30 p.m, here on the weekends. So at least now we have games in the prime time slot here where our fans can watch it live. And we've seen tremendous growth in our viewership and ratings around that. But again, we need to have more infrastructure built. India need to have more arenas built and we need to have more places for kids to be able to play in the country.

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