Will brands play Hack-a-Shaq to NBA moves in India

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nbaHow many of us would like to see an Indian wearing an NBA Lakers, Toronto Raptors, New York Knicks jersey, dunk the basket ball net somewhere in the international basketball court? Or do you think that all of the above is incomprehensible and you will have to Google search it all? Well, the well known National Basketball Association that originated in the USA, has actively been in India for the last four years, hosting more than 450 events and programmes in India. Looking at a 50 per cent increase in participation with NBA’s grassroots programmes, the brand claims to be present across 10 cities like Ludhiana, Chandigarh, Bengaluru, Chennai, Pune, Hyderabad, Cochin, Trivandrum, Delhi and Mumbai among others. What all has the US turned global league been doing in India and how is it creating ripples in the sphere of basketball? Pitch finds out.

Akash Jain, Senior Director, NBA India

Akash Jain, Senior Director, NBA India

Akash Jain, Senior Director, NBA India, thinks that India is a sporting nation as it is passionate about cricket.  “The sport is largely played by the youth in schools and colleges in urban India. We have been active in the market since 2008 and have seen big participation in the basketball sphere as well as growth in the NBA brand fan base in India,” he adds.

Run and gun
Does NBA that originates from the US connect with the sports and lifestyle in India? Jain feels that NBA is very much a global league now, and claims that 25 per cent of the players are from outside USA, with the game being broadcast in over 250 countries. “In India our target is largely to engage youth in the Tier-1 cities and as we build our traction with basketball and NBA here, we will continue to expand in other markets too,” he adds.

The brand claims that it is increasing the distribution on NBA content across platforms, as it recently signed a multi view television partnership with Sony Six in order to move towards broadcasting games in India and create localised programmes.

NBA India has hosted the Mahindra NBA challenge, which has a work ratio of five on five armature league programme. Claiming to have about 600 teams participate from across the country, NBA India also claims to have also implemented a variety of lifestyle events, such as the partnership with Sprite, which launched the NBA 3X programme combining three on three basketball with music and lifestyle elements.  “We have got a great relationship with Adidas and there is a mix of local and global brands for events and programmes. We have a local partnership with Sony here and Mahindra, we have our global partner like Sprite and Adidas which are very interested in using the NBA to connect with consumers here,” Jain adds.

The brand also has a Junior NBA programme, which is a school based platform, designed to  train coaches and introduce the game to youth. In addition to that, Jain claims, “We work closely with the basketball federation of India in training coaches and identifying talents and providing individual training to top players. We have conducted over 200 coaching clinics last year alone across the county.

Roopam Harish Sharma, CEO, Basketball Federation of India

Roopam Harish Sharma, CEO, Basketball Federation of India

Three pointer layups
Rupam Harish Sharma, CEO, Basketball Federation of India (BFI), says that NBA is targeting the youth in urban cities and schools to give them a competitive edge. BFI on the other hand is focusing on schools and colleges both because as it wants more competitions. “We are partners with IMG (International Management Group) Reliance, as far as the marketing rights are concerned. NBA is focusing at its own marketing rights and I think it is a very small portion of its marketing clients who are contributing towards basketball. What it primarily does is provide technical support,” she adds.

According to media sources, IMG and Reliance entered a 30-year joint Venture with BFI in 2010, which gave both commercial rights over basketball in India as well as merchandising, broadcast, advertising and franchising rights.

As far as BFI is concerned, it claims to be taking up a bigger responsibility in terms of incentives, giving cash awards, productivity linked incentives at the national basketball coaching camps and  also international events and exposure. As far is NBA is  concerned, Sharma says, “We give them all kinds of technical support in terms of referring and officiating standards, but again these programmes are  organised by BFI  in association with  FIBA (International Basketball Association) World for referring.”

In November 2012, BFI announced the appointment of Scott Flemming to be the Head Coach of the Indian National Basketball Team at Basketball Federation of India. To his credit Flemming has been the coach for Texas Legends, an NBA team in the past.

logo22Sharma opines that NBA is famous worldwide and urban kids who play basketball in public schools know about  NBA. “They are familiar with NBA stars and legends, so NBA as a matter of fact does not have to establish itself. Its logo is good enough  for some of our players,” she adds.

Aiming for the basket?
Working with a local company called Bradford Licensing, NBA is also exploring local partnerships with non apparel product categories. NBA claims to have three merchandising partners in India; Adidas which is its core apparel and footwear partner and as per NBA’s internal reports, merchandise business with Adidas has doubled since last year. It has also tied up with Spalding for basketball equipment and 2K for videogames.

Adidias, according to industry sources, sells NBA T-shirts, shorts, jerseys and sweatshirts in more than 120 stores in  India. For the record the Spalding Official NBA Zi-O Excel Basketball-Size 7 is pegged approximately at Rs 1,500 and  Spalding NBA Leather Game Ball is around Rs 7,000. 

Ashoo Advani, Brand Expert, Chlorophyll Brand & Communications Consultancy

Ashoo Advani, Brand Expert, Chlorophyll Brand & Communications Consultancy

But does the brand’s equity have more weight or the hard core fan? Ashoo Advani, Brand Expert, Chlorophyll Brand & Communications Consultancy, feels that the financial part of the brand, where the brand makes money will come from merchandise, media titles and others. “There are enough people in India who will buy shoes and T-Shirts with an NBA logo and teams that participate in it because it is a ‘foreign’ thing and it is ‘good to wear something which is international’,” he adds.  But for a brand to have hardcore followers, Advani feels that the brand needs to do something different. “NBA can partner with  sports channels and show basketball, have more basketball channels on TV and it can do press events etc. People will get aware of the brand and will start buying NBA logos and NBA partner logos, but that cannot be termed as becoming a follower of the brand; that is a short term life,” he adds.

Talking zilch about the investment that NBA has made in India and the expected ROI, Jain says that the brand is making significant investment in grassrootsNBA programmes, and will continue to generate demands though the various mediums such as television viewership.

Jain reiterates that the media mix that NBA uses is a cross of many, “In television we have Sony, we use digital and social media as a strong platform to engage fans, we use radio quite significantly to promote our local events and programmes and print for news about the events,” he adds.

Crossover dribble
The biggest challenge that Jain feels NBA India is facing in India, is to keep up with the demand in the country. “We implement programmes in Tiwr-1 cities in Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. We are being contacted by basketball associations from all over the country to bring our programmes to their cities. The other thing is reaching out to fans with NBA content, working with media partners like Sony. We think we can localise content for fans in India,” he adds.

Advani, feels that for a brand to become a brand, there must be enough believers  of the brand, “NBA is not just about basketball, it is the spirit of NBA which is more important  than basketball. So even if basketball does not become a big sport in India, it should not differentiate between basketball and NBA,” he adds giving an example of Formula1 vs the idea of F1, “People who watch F1 in India are limited, which has increased now,  but the idea of F1  is the best of talent in terms of manufacturing  companies, people , logistics, the way the event is carried out, races are organised across the world is the idea of the brand. Same way NBA, the brand without even becoming a major sport in India can become a major brand provided it stars behaving differently from other sporting events,” he opines.

For an example, he says that if NBA stars with women and then men, people will start seeing NBA as a different brand. “Imagine taking a route where it says that ‘everyone is equal in the country and that is the belief that NBA stands for’; that is what latches on. Even in major sports, it is few geographies and states that get highlighted and participate more. I think, there is an opportunity for NBA to say that I would focus on  states so far that have been neglected, I would go to north eastern part of India, I would go to Kashmir, I would go to underdeveloped parts of Orissa… If the brand does something different from other sporting brands in India, then it can have a certain number of people who would follow the brand and become a part of the brand’s philosophy,” Advani appends.

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