The NBA Travels to India
Akash Jain discusses how the NBA has introduced basketball to India.
SLAM: What kinds of ratings do these programs with NBA content receive?
AJ: I can tell you that viewership and ratings are up significantly. And we continue to find ways to provide more and more programming and content to our fans.
SLAM: Where’s the greatest impact in how Indians use mobile phones to access NBA content?
AJ: For us, we launched localized website both online and mobile for India in late 2009. That was a first step in us engaging fans through digital platforms. It’s a huge opportunity in the future for more mobile content. 3G is something that has just launched. As that technology becomes more pervasive, we see great, great opportunity for our content. Snack-sized 15- or 30-second clip of Blake Griffin dunking over a car or a great pass by LeBron [James] or Kobe [Bryant] – things our fans around the world are interested in. As the 3G technology and penetration of smartphones continue to increase here, we see a lot of opportunity.
SLAM: Are you seeing more of that interest derived from the young, working class or from kids whose parents will buy them cell phones?
AJ: I really think it’s both. One of the attractive characteristics of the Indian demographic now is that over 50 percent of the population is under 25 [years old]. They’re tech-savvy and more and more are relying on smartphones and advanced devices. That fan base, we think, is extremely interested in the type of content we have to follow the game and the players and their favorite teams.
SLAM: I imagine there has to be different areas of interest from each group, though. One can afford to buy products for themselves while the other relies on someone else to buy something for them.
AJ: Yeah, look, our initial target is we’ve rolled out our foundation of India as the urban youth. Ones who have access to platforms that can view our content but also anyone who’s interested in the game can participate in our grassroots programs, get online and view our localized website. So, we’re going to look to expand over time because we have a long-term commitment in the market.
SLAM: The NBA has an official Facebook page for NBA India and then there’s the League’s presence on Twitter. Where is social media prioritized in marketing basketball and the NBA in India?
AJ: It’s extremely high, especially within our digital strategy. Clearly those platforms are great ways to engage and speak to fans on a daily, or almost up-to-the-minute basis. It’s a great way to share content, breaking stories, things like that which fans are interested in. The NBA has always been at the leading edge of using technology to engage our fans. Facebook is a platform that’s growing very rapidly here, especially with youth. We’re looking at continuing to use these platforms to engage and grow our fan base.
SLAM: Do you use social media to create basketball-related events in cities?
AJ: Yeah, a really good example of that is we have a separate [Facebook] page that’s dedicated to Mahindra NBA Challenge, which is the largest grassroots program in India. It’s a community basketball league that’s in five cities. The page is the primary communication for all the league participants, coaches. Schedules are posted, statistics, standings, so all of them follow that on a daily basis to see where they’re playing next or where they rank in the League. The NBA Facebook page is always an integral component of our promotion plans for all of the grassroots activities we have here.
SLAM: So, there are leagues in five cities?
AJ: Yeah, this is the second year. Last year, we had leagues in three cities. This year, we expanded into five cities. We completed leagues in two cities – Mumbai and Delhi – earlier this spring and in mid-summer we’re going to be launching in three more cities. Those three cities are Ludhiana, Bangalore and Chennai.
SLAM: What are the age ranges of the players in these leagues?
AJ: There’s a variety of age groups from ages 12 and up. So, they are divided into sub-junior, youth, junior and adult, and that’s both for men and women. We had four divisions last year and we expanded to eight this year because, again, we saw just great demand with younger players who wanted to be apart of the program.
SLAM: I read that NBA India recently opened five indoor courts in the country. Is that correct?
AJ: Those have been built over the last year and a half through our NBA Cares platform.
SLAM: Where are they located?
AJ: Four here in Mumbai and one in Chennai. And we really view it as just the tip of the iceberg. We have a vision to build or refurbish at least 100 basketball courts over the next five years to facilitate access to the game and to provide a safe place for kids to play.
SLAM: Are those indoor or outdoor courts?
AJ: Those are largely outdoor courts identifying deserving communities, schools, community organizations where we believe these courts can be utilized.
SLAM: And these will be located in some of the same cities that you already mentioned?
AJ: That’s really to be determined. We continue to work with our partners and the Basketball Federation of India to evaluate locations across the country, where we see an opportunity to grow the game and engage communities.