Schedule an obstacle to more European NBA games but jersey sponsorship 'a success'
By Simon Ward at the O2 in London
The NBA would like to stage extra regular-season games in Europe although this might well necessitate changes to the calendar, according to the league’s commissioner Adam Silver.
Last night, London put on such a game for the eighth consecutive year as the Boston Celtics beat the Philadelphia 76ers 114-103 in front of a capacity crowd of around 19,000 at the O2 Arena, and Silver has no doubt about the demand for these showcases in the UK capital and other major cities outside North America.
On Thursday, the NFL announced the three regular-season games it will stage in London in the 2018-19 season, but the NBA’s ambitions are constrained by the organisational challenges involved in transporting two teams to another continent in the midst of their 82-game seasons.
Speaking at a media conference ahead of last night’s NBA London game, Silver said: “We are considering bringing additional games to Europe. I will say that we’re so different to the NFL, a sport that plays once a week. It’s just the logistical challenges for us are so much greater.
"Just in bringing these two teams for this one game, both teams stopped playing in the States roughly five days before today [Thursday]. Both teams will have roughly three days off when they get back.
“The issue for the teams is, and this is why we’re so appreciative of them coming, is there are a certain number of days in the schedule, and you build some buffer around this game in the middle of the season. It requires compressing the schedule in other parts of the season. And the more teams we bring, the more scheduling difficulties we have.”
He added: “It may mean that we should look at potentially adding some days to the season. Maybe we should be looking to do some different things with our pre-season and shortening that and adding a few more days to the regular season.”
Silver has said it could be more tangible for a European city such as London to stage the annual All-Star Game and supporting events, although hosts are in place until 2021.
The NBA commissioner was yesterday bombarded with questions from reporters from various countries about the possibility of regular-season games in their markets, and was broadly positive about the prospects in Paris and Berlin, both of which have arenas operated by AEG, the owner of the O2, and Istanbul, while being more guarded about the possibility of long-haul trips to Australia, which has developed around a dozen NBA players in recent years.
Silver said: “The issue is that the resources involved in bringing teams across the world are so great. I wish it [Australia] were a little bit larger market from a scale standpoint in terms of bringing a game.
“I’m not ruling it out, and there may be alternatives to bringing a game that make more sense. For example, our players are increasingly travelling in the summers, doing camps, doing clinics, doing appearances. It may be that we look to maybe create some other types of events.”
The NBA remains committed to the development of basketball in Europe, and this was demonstrated this week as it announced the expansion of the Jr NBA programme with Basketball England, with the number of junior leagues to increase from four to 16 over the next three years.
However, Silver admitted he has concerns about the ongoing dispute between FIBA, the international basketball federation, and Euroleague Basketball, the organiser of the top European clubs competition, over national team games during the season.
European players have been forced to decide between turning out for national teams or their club sides after international games were scheduled in the same week as EuroLeague fixtures following the introduction by FIBA of new windows in November and February, with many opting to stay with their clubs.
Both sides have accused the other of undermining national team basketball, while failing to reach agreement on an international calendar and pursuing legal proceedings.
The NBA, as the world’s top clubs competition, was not expected to release players for the in-season windows, but would like to see the conflict resolved for the betterment of basketball internationally.
Silver said: “We are in touch with both camps, so to speak, in terms of the EuroLeague, and we are a member in good standing of FIBA. It [the dispute] is not something that we like to see. We’re somewhat on the sidelines in terms of that controversy, and we recognise that there’s an awkwardness to the extent that the NBA seems to live under a different set of rules.”
He added: “All I can say is it’s our hope that they work those issues out. From a larger basketball standpoint, we recognise in order for the sport to continue to grow in Europe, you need more than a strong NBA. You need strong country leagues. You need strong pan-regional operations, similar to the EuroLeague. And you need strong national teams. All of those things are important.”
Jersey sponsors Last night’s game involved NBA two teams that have joined the rush to sign up jersey sponsors (General Electric for the Celtics and StubHub for the 76ers), a common feature in European sport, but one that is largely new to North American teams.
Nineteen of the 30 NBA teams now have sponsors after the league launched a three-year pilot programme at the start of this season, and Silver expects the others to come on board in due course.
He said: “I do consider these jersey sponsorships to be a success. It’s interesting, when we first announced it, there were some predicting dire consequences for the league. I think, frankly, most people hardly notice it at this point, certainly when they’re in the arenas, because unless you see the close-up television shot of the jerseys, it’s not something that’s even all that noticeable.”
Under the terms of the programme, the logo of a sponsor can be displayed on a patch measuring approximately 2.5 inches by 2.5 inches opposite the logo of Nike, the US sportswear giant which has taken over as the kit supplier of the NBA, and was the presenting sponsor of the London game.
Silver said: “I will say it’s had the desired impact in that roughly two-thirds of our teams now have partnerships with their jerseys, and we have over a dozen companies that had no prior relationship with the NBA now engaged with our teams.
"And in addition to the revenue opportunities that it creates for the NBA and the opportunity for us to invest more in growing the sport, it means that those companies that weren’t previously invested in the NBA are also invested in partnering with us and marketing the sport.
“So we think it’s been successful, and we’ll see where it goes. I think my sense is that roughly the third of NBA teams that don’t have those partnerships are in various states of conversations with companies about potentially doing similar deals.”