US President Donald Trump's reference to National Basketball Association (NBA) exhibition matches in India (where Sacramento Kings played against Indiana Pacers) at the 'Howdy, Modi!' event in Houston last year is known to have got a lot of incremental interest and viewership for the league, especially from tier 2-3 markets. NBA India is now busy putting together the India league of NBA, which will be called Pro Basketball League.
NBA India's Managing Director Rajesh Sethi, however, doesn't want to reveal the exact date of the launch of the league. He says that India has over 110 million active NBA fans and it's about time India has its own NBA league. "League creation takes time. There are a lot of moving elements and we are focusing on them and trying to orchestrate it. We are surprised at the kind of interest corporates have been showing. The way NBA is catching up after what we did with NBA India games, it is right the time to start focusing on an Indian NBA league."
NBA India, which set up operations in 2011, has been focusing on creating an ecosystem for basketball ever since. It has partnered with Reliance Foundation for the Junior NBA Program, under which it's working with 13,000 children. It has NBA Basketball Schools where it runs after-school basketball programmes across 30 cities. To build talent for its India league, NBA is kicking off an on-ground promotion across 20 cities and towns later this month to attract more students to take up basketball.
"We have identified 20 cities and towns where we want to increase the traction of basketball. We want to amplify and multiply the level of engagement we have in these cities," explains Sethi. The NBA Academy in Greater Noida has also trained 120 players to compete in professional basketball tournaments.
Before Pro Basketball League is rolled out, NBA is planning to roll out its exclusive retail stores in India. The NBA merchandise is already available across 750 multi-brand stores. The basketball league also has an e-store on Myntra. The merchandise business, however, has never taken off in India. For instance, IPL merchandise doesn't have too many takers. Similarly Manchester United, despite having a large fan base in India, was not successful with its merchandise stores. Sethi believes that a fan base of over 110 million is a compelling reason to roll out the exclusive stores. Sethi says that apart from the large fan base, the NBA fantasy sports game (for which it has partnered with Dream 11) has more than 3 million monthly active users.
Around 450 players get drafted in NBA every year, more than 25 per cent of whom are from outside America. Sethi's dream is to have more Indians becoming part of the global league. "The participation this year is from around 38-40 countries. The average earning is around $7 million per season. There is a huge economic value attached to it and as a proud Indian, I want Indians to be in this space."