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London Calling: NBA continues global expansion on and off the court

By: Andy Cooper

Tonight sees the NBA arrive in the UK for the sixth time as the Orlando Magic face the Toronto Raptors at the O2 Arena in London.

A key feature of the NBA’s continued globalization, the NBA London games were introduced by former Commissioner David Stern as part of his vision to significantly expand the league’s reach overseas. Stern’s ambition is shared by his successor, Adam Silver, and tonight’s event is the second regular season game to be played abroad in 2015/16 after the Boston Celtics and Sacramento Kings met in Mexico City in December.

Despite the relative weakness of the Great Britain national team and the country’s lack of a major domestic competition, basketball’s popularity in the UK is stronger than ever. Tonight’s game sold out in under an hour when tickets went on sale last October. Basketball participation continues to grow, with a reported 218,000 playing the game at least once a week.

Not only has the NBA gained a strong foothold in Europe, it is also making big strides in emerging sports markets such as China. Of the $5.5bn the league generates annually, approximately $150m comes directly from China, with the NBA now scheduling preseason games in the Far East as it looks to continue a rate of growth in Asia unmatched by any other major sports league. With no serious threat to its dominance (the Spanish Liga ACB is the world’s second biggest basketball competition with an annual revenue of $106.9m), the NBA is the only competition that stands to benefit from basketball’s surging global popularity.

The intelligent use of social media and digital technology has been a major catalyst for this growth, connecting the NBA with its growing international fan base. The number of fans engaging with the league on Facebook rose from 14.5m to 27.4m between September 2012 and September 2015, with the NBA’s Twitter following increasing from 6m to 17m during the same period.

The NBA’s innovative use of analytics has also played a major role in the development of its profile both at home and abroad. One of the first major leagues to fully embrace statistics, performance information is a key part of the NBA’s social strategy, with its @nbastats Twitter account having over 318,000 followers and helping fans and media partners to engage with the league in greater depth.

As the official statistics distribution partner of the NBA with STATS SportVU® cameras installed in every arena, STATS is supporting the league as it continues to explore the rich potential of advanced statistics. STATS SportVU unlocks a range of statistics that were previously too difficult to quantify. These statistics add layers of information to engage fans around the world and power second screen applications that help media companies enhance their presentation of the league.

The speed with which the NBA has adapted to new forms of technology has benefitted the league in numerous ways. Not only is the league more accessible to its legions of fans around the world, its investment in social media is contributing to increased sales of tickets, merchandise and advertising. Connecting with fans, boosting its profile and helping brands and sponsors to reach vast new markets, the NBA’s global games have become a key strategic ingredient in the league’s mission to turn itself into a truly international competition.

STATS SportVU® is the official player tracking technology of the NBA. SportVU creates a wealth of innovative statistics to engage teams and fans with unique basketball data and immersive content experiences. Contact STATS to find out what SportVU can do for your organization.