Can the NBA do ‘an NFL’ in the UK?

Hotdog guzzling, cheerleader-gyrating sporting spectaculars the NBA and NFL epitomise the lucrative “Americanisation” of the UK events scene. Indeed, in a recent chat with Access, Conservative MP and event industry champion Nick De Bois name checked both imports as textbook examples of how looking abroad for fresh event formats pays off.

Entertainment company AEG Sports Europe is also understandably chuffed. Matthieu Van Veen, its SVP, says the fact that the game (Milwaukee Bucks vs New York Knicks, 15 January) sold out in less than one hour shows demand in Europe is high and that NBA basketball is hugely successful content for its venues. “Our global relationship with the NBA took another significant step forward with this game,” he says.

The NBA and AEG Sports Europe have worked together since 2007 to bring the excitement of NBA basketball to European fans, hosting 15 NBA games in London, Berlin and Istanbul since. However, while American football’s rise in the UK has been nothing short of bullish, there are greater logistical challenges preventing the NBA from aping this winning format.

The NBA’s senior director, events, marketing and operations Kent Christian told Access that the team are is always evaluating different opportunities in the UK market and beyond, but London continues to be its priority. “The overwhelming demand from celebrities, partners and the success of our hospitality packages is further evidence of the growing popularity of the sport,” he adds. >

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There are warnings that London would need to be part of a Europe- wide NBA division for it to flourish and work logistically in the UK. NBA commissioner Adam Silver says any plan would need a lot of work, but adds that sporting barriers are coming down. “The world is becoming smaller because of technology and media.

We are in a global market”. China, India and South Africa are also eyed for growth.

While officials are choosing their words carefully, it is clear more games in London is the goal. The NFL, meanwhile, has made more forthright

statements, with commissioner Roger Goodell saying he wants to grow revenues to $25bn from around $9.5bn by 2027, a target that demands more UK participation. Any team that hosts a game in England will reportedly be paid an additional $1m on top of lost revenues.

For now, social media is proving to be a valuable tool in amping up the NBA’s global appeal. Christian says social mediums provided behind-the- scenes access for fans unable to attend. “Presenting partner Sportlobster were able to reach fans through various fun activations such as ticket >

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promotions, a treasure hunt through London and a live chat with NBA Legend Hakeem Olajuwon. [Through social media] fans had a front court seat to the game through engaging content making the game accessible to all. Fans, of course, could also watch the game live on BT Sport.”

The NBA is also upping its UK links, by encouraging youngsters to play basketball by striking a partnership with Deng’s Foundation in Brixton, along with a deal with Basketball England to create a junior NBA league.

It is clear that the NBA is eager to pursue an active long-term expansion in the UK, and it’s willing to jump through hoops to do so.

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Event facts

  • The majority of the production for the NBA game each year is managed in-house by The O2 team. The O2 owns the court and the equipment (e.g. scoring and baskets) and the role of the venue is to maintain these and ensure they are fit for purpose each year.
  • The NBA brings in its own scoring and time keep officials who work at all season games in the US.
  • The O2 builds tribunes for media so they can work and watch throughout the game.
  • The capacity of the match is 18,500.
  • Due to the unique media requirements (much more broadcast requests than standard gig) The O2 brings in stat screens for the media tribunes but everything else is provided in-house.
  • Build time for the event is just two days.
  • The contract is a rolling yearly contract between AEG and the NBA. The are managed by Yanni Andreopoulos, director of AEG Sports, Europe, AEG Europe Sports. He acts as the promoter for the event in the UK.

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 This piece originally appeared in Access’ relaunched issue, Februrary 2015.

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