What we learnt from NBA London

NBA London

Following record sales of tickets for the NBA London clash between the Brooklyn Nets and the Atlanta Hawks, we took a look at what we have learnt from the NBA London experience.

The UK loves NBA Basketball

NBA London

First and foremost we learnt that the demand for NBA action in the UK is higher than ever with the 02 selling out in under four hours.

Outgoing commissioner David Stern spoke prior to tip off at the O2 arena and acknowledged the rise in profile of basketball over his time as commissioner.

“Well, I think it’s fair to say of all the countries we’ve visited, the profile historically of basketball has been the lowest in the UK.”

“The infrastructure in the countries other than the UK historically has been a little bit more focused with support of a governmental body together with the federation, together with the league, and that hasn’t quite been the case with the UK. But I think it’s becoming clarified, and I think it’s going to, together with the increased support that we see for us and the increase in sort of the interest in our game here, especially amongst youth, that Basketball England‑‑ or is it England Basketball? It was named something else the last time I visited. There seem to have been different names and different organizations.

It seems that there’s, together with the post‑Olympic hopefully grant that is coming for the development of the sport, there’s going to be a significant uptick in basketball interest in the UK. “

A sentiment supported by the fact that England Basketball reported a 16% increase in the number of people playing the sport once a week in the UK in 2013. Thanks to the recent deal with BT Sport, the NBA has become a lot more accessible in the UK.

Whilst referring to the ‘post-Olympic grant’ Stern clearly isn’t aware of the possible plans to cut GB basketballs funding, it positive that Stern has seen progression in focus at the top of the game here in the UK.

There will be another NBA London

NBA London

Nothing is set in stone for the next UK based NBA game, however fear not, it will be back. Incoming commissioner Adam Silver revealed that:

“We (The NBA) do have plans in place to continue playing regular season games in London. It’s been a fantastic experience for our teams and our players, and we hope to continue building our business in London and throughout Europe.”

Pressed on whether we will be seeing action more often Silver stated:

“No, I think it will be annual. I think we’re looking at other opportunities, maybe to play more games or possibly do a tournament at some point, but right now we’re going to continue on the same course, an annual regular season game.”

This is something we have managed to speak to a number of people about in recent months, with Atlanta Hawks Dominique Wilkins and Team GB star Luol Deng throwing their (significant) weight behind. David Stern has also stated recently that it will inevitably happen. Thankfully the loss of Stern does not mean the loss of the concept, as Adam Silver reiterated that it was “something they will continue to look at”. This might not sound like anything to get excited about, however Silver did suggest the events such as NBA London were being used to assess the suitability of the city.

“Part of understanding the opportunity is to play games like this and to measure the response and go from there.”

Selling out in record time can only strengthen London’s case as let’s not forget that as much as NBA fans worldwide would love a team in their city, the NBA is in the end a business and any decision to branch out would be made with the welfare of the business in mind.

The NBA has no plan to assign a current franchise as an ‘established London team’

One resolution to the NBA demand suggested to us regularly by followers is following the NFL’s example of assigning a franchise which visits regularly. This benefits both the UK based fans as it gives them a team to get behind knowing that they will regularly get the chance to support them live. It also has a clear benefit for the franchise as the fan base increases and this in turn is likely to boost merchandise opportunities for the franchise.

However with the Nets stating they aim to market themselves this side of the Atlantic, Silver suggested that they wouldn’t receive preference.

“No, they’re not at the front of the queue. As Brett Yormark, the president of the Nets, has said before, he’s often the first to raise his hand for international travel, but the plan is to spread it throughout the league.”

Teams predominantly see visiting the UK as a help not a hindrance

NBA Chelsea Fans

One concern with wanting more regular NBA action in the UK is the obvious disruption to routine as teams battle there way through an 82 game season. That was one concern raised by Kyle Korver when we discussed the London franchise concept with him. However teams that visit London regularly speak of the positive influences the trip has for their teams.

Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer spoke to the media following the Hawks loss to the Nets in London and stated ” We are a big believer in the benefits of the trip off the court”. Whilst recognising they need to focus on the court as it is a regular season game he also spoke about the effect of the trip on the group.

“It is also important that we take advantage of this opportunity to experience another country, another culture as a group and we spend some time together and bond.

“The more we care about each other, the more we learn about each other and I believe this carries over to the court.”

Whilst its acknowledged the trip can effect the teams routines, they do get a break in the schedule. This further points to the games being shared around the league rather than one team being regularly disrupted, but it’s clear the teams take full advantage of the trip to London. Oklahoma took the opportunity to do some sightseeing when they visited Manchester, while the Nets took some time out to visit Stamford bridge and the Chelsea stars.

Future games are likely to be in London

Empty Seats

As we know the NBA game in Manchester wasn’t nearly as successful as NBA London, whether it be because it was a pre season game, location or price to name a few problems highlighted to us in our poll following NBA Manchester.

Silver was asked whether they had any plans to move future games further North with Manchester suggested as an option.

“You know, as you know, we played a friendly in Manchester. It’s something we’ll look at. I mean, nothing is set in stone. We’ve done very well here in London, so the greater likelihood is we would return to London. “

It’s fair to say this was a polite no, and who can blame them. They had to give away tickets in Manchester and it still didn’t sell out. Lets not forget this is a business, and with record sales in London, if it isn’t broke don’t fix it.

Celebrities love NBA action

Olivier Giroud

You only had to look around courtside to see just how many celebrities flocked to NBA London. From Beatles star Paul McCartney to model Cara Delevingne, to just about every London based premier league star, the vote from celebrities was definitely a thumbs up.

In conclusion, NBA London has certainly done plenty to strengthen the UK’s case for more and more NBA action. We demonstrated how strong the market was through record sales, proved we have a fantastic venue for basketball and did a great job of providing the two teams with a positive experience.

Whilst dreams of a London franchise were put on ice for the foreseeable future, we were given hope of more and more action, which is just what we wanted.

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Brynn Cooper is the founder of NBA_UKfans.

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