As a fan of basketball, I love and understand the impact the sport brings to fans and communities globally. Not just because I have been part of the NBA family since 2004 and a fan since the age of 10yrs old, but because I have first-hand experience.
The big question that basketball pundits and critics have is: Does the NBA coming to London or anywhere else in the world, to showcase it’s league and players have a positive impact on what’s in place domestically? Quite simply… Of course it does, and for anyone to argue blindly and say it doesn’t, isn’t a true fan or understand what the sport is about. The NBA is not that rich uncle that rolls into town and makes everything all right. What it does is, give us, the fans, an opportunity to be part of something that is special for many. I grew up on Love and Basketball and as far as I can remember, basketball, music and lifestyle went hand in hand. My first year in attending the NBA Global Games in London was in 1993, when my parents took me to watch the Orlando Magic and the Atlanta Hawks. I will never forget that day. As a 10yr old child, my love for the sport grew. We didn’t have the best tickets and we were not courtside but the atmosphere was enough for me to fall in love with the sport.
Growing up, playing in the NBA, working with the NBA or even attending an NBA game was something out of our reach. Merely dreams, if you will. But they were things that many of us hoped for. Subsequently, a few British players made it into the league – some we celebrate and some, people forget they existed. This helped open up the NBA borders for more players and fans alike. The truth of the matter is, the NBA as an organization, over the years, it has done more for local communities than other professional sporting leagues globally.
In 2005, David Stern (then NBA President) announced an initiative that was going to help communities and young people, not only in the states but globally, this initiative was called “NBA CARES.” Through NBA CARES, the league, players and teams have raised and contributed over $100 million for charities, they donate more than 1 million hours of hands-on volunteer service to communities worldwide, and have built more than 100 places where kids can learn and play over the last 10years.
This far-reaching community outreach initiative was built on the NBA’s long tradition of addressing important social issues with an emphasis on programs that support education, youth and family development, and health-related causes. I have witnessed this happen in London, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Senegal, United States, Spain, Italy, Finland and more.
I was also here in the early 2000’s, when the NBA came to town and opened their offices. When they arrived, they engaged with everyone that was involved with basketball. I was one of those people. They were open to people, ideas and programs to help raise the awareness of basketball in the UK. They tried to work with the federations and community groups. The young people involved loved it and it allowed them to dream bigger and know that, there is a clear path to working or playing basketball professionally. The impact was instant because people got excited and had hopes that this new NBA engagement would be an answer to the problems within the British Basketball League.
We were wrong. The NBA was like any other business expanding their market and looking to work with people to grow their brand and also for people to be able to associate themselves with the NBA brand to grow themselves. It was a win-win situation for most. But the problem was, a lot of people working in basketball in the UK at that time, were working in small groups and in isolation. People didn’t want or like to work together – that’s the truth. People were working against each other and not coming together for a common goal simply because many thought they knew best when it came to – raising the awareness of basketball in the UK.
This is a common known fact for many who work within the basketball community. So, the NBA did what any business would do and carried on working with the people who were willing to work together and with community organizations that help and develop the next generation. As a journalist and a fan of the sport, I have in the past argued and criticized the NBA a lot for the things they could have done better, but I can not criticize them for what they have done for the UK community. I can’t fault them. They have tried and continue to try. They have offered opportunities for many to come in and learn about what they do and even employed many best people to work in their environment and learn the business.
Have they tried to work with the BBL and Great Britain in the past? Yes, they have. Have they tried to work with Basketball England? Yes, they have and continue to do so. The participation of basketball has grown. We now have over 30 NBA Jnr program in the UK with Basketball England, who work extremely hard with other organizations and the NBA to get young people to engage with the sport. The latest participation figures for basketball, released by Sport England, have revealed an increase in weekly participation up 21,800 to 152,900 with the main increase coming from young people in school & further education. With regards to overall trends since Active People Survey (APS) were released in October 2011, basketball has seen a growth in females involved in the sport, as well as an increase in club members, players actively involved in competitive basketball, and a growth in BME participation. It is also estimated that the number of people playing the sport at least once a week in further education has risen by nearly 12,000 in this period.
What people have got to remember is that the NBA Global Games is an event – it’s like our NBA ALLSTAR weekend or the Premier League Finals. It is an event that needs all the different elements to make it as popular as it is. This includes sponsors and brands, celebrities and the fans. In order for broadcasters to be able to afford to broadcast these events, all this is needed and in order for the NBA to host events like this, they also need it. Let’s remind ourselves of the London 2012 Olympics – without the entertainment, celebrities and sponsorship, it would have been terrible. As a Sport Operations Coordinator and later, the Olympic and Paralympic Basketball producer for the Olympic Games, it was a MUST.
Without these elements and content, the event would be unsuccessful. Period. Brands and sponsors need the association with athletes and celebrities. Sporting events need athletes and sponsors in order for broadcasters to be able to produce content that audiences like you and I would love to watch over and over again. When you start to understand this simple concept, it will make it clearer for you to understand why all these elements are needed.
The idea of people getting upset because broadcasters are showing celebrities before the game starts, during time outs and half time is clearly silly and unnecessary. To understand the sport business is to understand that, in order to have successful sporting events, these are the elements and content that draw in revenue. The same revenues that brings you the sport, the players and the donation to the community programs. It’s not free or cheap to play at the o2 arena. It’s not free for the game to be broadcasted, it’s not free for the teams to fly out here to compete and it’s not free for you and me to enjoy. If you are a fan of the game, someone who has lived in the United States or someone who watches the games, you know that in the United States, the games are heavily branded, tickets are expensive and celebrity features are the norm. This is not exclusive to the UK or American sport. We do the same with premier league football, Rugby and cricket. Content is king when it comes to sports and broadcasting.
Having the NBA in town should be a unique experience for you. This is something you save for. This is something you look forward to (it’s like planning your holiday). This is our NBA ALLSTAR weekend. What are you moaning about? It really gets boring when so called fans go out of their way to try and verbally abuse you over social media over something, they clearly don’t have a greater understanding of. It’s fine because it’s about educating the masses.
Yes, we all wish the NBA tickets were cheaper, we wish all the fans could get tickets to the game, we wish we had a dedicated broadcaster that has shows that gives us what we want on demand. But, when we did have it, people didn’t watch it or support it. With an average viewership of 10,000 people per game, what broadcaster is willing to lose money over a sport that people don’t actively watch? Think about it? We have growth in participation (which is a huge thing), but we don’t have the rating when it comes to viewership in the UK. Why? Because basketball isn’t the main sport in the UK, Premier League Football, Rugby, and Cricket is King. Having football, rugby and cricket players at the game is not only about content but also about cross promotion of the sport. Some of these celebrities may not know anything about basketball, but their association with the event or sport may engage others or trigger an interest from some sporting fans.
The BBC is now covering the BBL on the red button and it is great to see that the Birmingham arena was filled out and previous BBL Cup Finals. But how many true NBA fans also buy BBL tickets? If you are a true fan of the sport, your support should start from your home team.
Get behind your domestic players. Get behind your teams. Let’s actively raise the level of participation in viewership and attendance for our domestic teams first. It is easier to moan and blame the NBA for a structure that has existed for all sporting events, not just the NBA.
The funny thing is, the NBA has impacted on the sport in the UK in a positive way as figures have shown. That is down to the people on the ground working in partnership with the NBA and the likes of Basketball England, primary and secondary schools, community projects and many more.
The culture of blame from the minority of fans and some media journalists/outlets needs to stop or be ignored because we are in a better position than we were in 10yrs ago. It could get better. BBL could grow bigger, have money to pay all players, have better arenas, more publicity (whether it’s from celebrities, sponsors or media outlets). Let’s be honest and the fact is, British basketball has had its own issues for many years. These were not issues that were caused by the NBA. But it is moving forward and progress is being made. If we are true British basketball fans, we should be prepared to also pay the same amount of money we are prepared to pay for the NBA when they are in town. The standard many not be like the NBA, but with our (the fans) investment, maybe we could have the next Lebron James come out of the UK and maybe we could someday have a British Global Game on foreign lands in years to come. I can only dream and I will continue to dream for that day to come. Let’s stop the blame game and comparison and focus on what needs to be done.
Let’s not forget, the NBA is a business. Not a charity organization.