The NBA Travels to India
Akash Jain discusses how the NBA has introduced basketball to India.
SLAM: I read about Brandon Jennings’ recent trip to India. He said an interesting thing about learning fundamentals—that it wasn’t necessary for kids unfamiliar to the game to learn every fundamental as long as they developed a general skill set. Where do you stand on that?
AJ: I think when we’re building a new emerging market, it’s a process. I think the basketball experts we have as part of our organization design curriculum that have different steps in that process. So, it’s purely identifying what some of the prioritized fundamentals and learning points should be emphasized and taught first.
SLAM: What kind of influence did Brandon have when he was there?
AJ: Very positive. We look at him as a global ambassador of the game. He’s traveled and played around the world, so he’s seen it grow around the world. He really helped to dispel an overriding stereotype here that you have to be a 7-footer to be successful in the game. He’s really inspired and motivated a lot of the young kids here.
SLAM: Well, you had a couple 7-footers take trips to India last year in Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard. To what degree does it help the growth of basketball in India to have these NBA players visit and for the kids to see them in-person?
AJ: It’s really a significant and valuable help. Our players are great ambassadors for the game; it’s a great way to engage our fans, not only in India, but around the world. Our fans will feel closer to the game and our players, when they get to meet them. All the players who we’ve brought here, we’ve enjoyed working with the players and coaches to impart their knowledge. They have tremendous basketball knowledge and experience. To be able to give that back here has been just of great value for us.
SLAM: Were Brandon or Pau or Dwight or any other current and former NBA and WNBA players who visited India surprised at the level of popularity for basketball in the country?
AJ: I think so. The great thing about all the players is they’ve come with an open mind and a great attitude. I think they were all pleasantly surprised at the reception that they got, the knowledge the young players here had of each of those young players. We had Dwight here visiting some adidas stores that we were opening, and there were kids lining the streets yelling “Superman!” We had Pau touring some of the key monuments in Mumbai and fans coming up to him and congratulating on back-to-back championships. I think things like that were a great surprise to the players.
SLAM: Do you have any NBA/WNBA players slated to visit India later this year?
AJ: We will have both current and former players to travel here but nothing has been finalized at this point.
SLAM: The expansion of adidas stores in India is interesting. NBA replica jerseys were just made available for the first time in early April, correct?
AJ: Correct. No statistics available just yet [to the response from consumers] – we’re working with adidas on that. Anecdotally, the responses have been very good. One of the initial evidence that made us think this could be successful was when Dwight was here, and we were able to launch the NBA Shops within two adidas stores. Those stores sold out of NBA apparel almost immediately – within days. That really pointed to what adidas and we thought, is an opportunity to grow. Now, we have NBA-branded apparel and footwear available in 200 adidas stores throughout the country.
SLAM: This is more a reflection of the rising middle class in India and the growth of their income?
AJ: Yeah, it’s a couple things. One, what you said, an increase in disposable income. Also, the sports-licensed market is growing rapidly, but it’s one that is very new in India. The IPL, which is kind of a premier professional cricket league here, is just finishing its fourth season. So, you’re starting now to see more and more kids wearing their favorite IPL player as you walk around the city. But it is only four years old – it’s a new market. And we continue to see new opportunities for NBA merchandise.
SLAM: I know from past stories I’ve written that there is a large worldwide market for counterfeited sports merchandise. What is counterfeit market like in India and what sorts of challenges does that present?
AJ: It exists, and the challenges to us are no different than in other parts of the world. We have to continue to monitor it. We obviously want to continue to protect our brand and the quality of merchandise that we’re offering our fans. We’ll continue to do that. We’ll continue to work with partners like adidas and Spalding in offering authentic, high-quality merchandise.
SLAM: Do you find that a lot of fans there purchase merchandise from NBA.com and other online retailers?
AJ: It’s growing; e-commerce is fairly new in India. It is growing, and it’s a great destination for fans around the world because of the wide assortment of merchandise that they can get there which might not be available in [a brick-and-mortar store].