After a pre-season Slam Dunk, NBA plans India League

The National Basketball Association (NBA) may start a professional basketball league in India in the coming two-three years. ​​India will be the second market outside North America where NBA will have a league, the first being Africa where NBA wil...

After a pre-season Slam Dunk, NBA plans India League
Mumbai: The National Basketball Association (NBA) has its sights set on starting a professional basketball league in India in the next two to three years, according to Rajesh Sethi, managing director of NBA India.

The league had organised its first-ever India pre-season games in October. Sethi, who joined NBA in September, just ahead of the India games, said, “The success of India games has triggered an inflection point for NBA in India.

While it has created a lot of buzz in India, it has also ticked many boxes for us. It has sent out a message internally that India is ready for the next leap. The games have also brought India on the radar of other teams and players.”


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India will be the second market outside North America where NBA will have a league, the first being Africa
where NBA will launch Basketball Africa League (BAL) in March 2020. NBA had announced BAL in February this year and launched the logo of the league last week.

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A pro league in India is a natural progression for everything NBA has been doing in the country, be it grassroots-level programme Jr NBA with Reliance Foundation or NBA Academy.

“We have worked on building an ecosystem for basketball in the country and a league will create a huge economic value for players too, who can then play in minor or major leagues,” Sethi said. In October, NBA commissioner Adam Silver had mentioned during his India visit for the fixture between Indiana Pacers and Sacramento Kings that NBA is in “serious consideration” to launch a league in India, “within the next five years”.

According to Sethi, NBA India has already received interest from over 25 corporates to buy teams. “We are yet to finalise on how many teams / franchises should be there. It could be anything between 8 and 12, but currently, its work in progress.

We have also shortlisted 22 arenas,” he said. Sethi said NBA India has 120 players and there will be international player who would want to come and play in the country. The main NBA League, which features 30 teams, drafts 450 players every season, of which over 100 are from outside of the US.

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The average per season salary of players is $7.2 million. On India games, Sethi said it brought new audiences to NBA. “NBA has a strong fan base of 110 million viewers in India, but it was always popular in pockets of Karnataka, Kerala, North-east, Mumbai and Punjab. But with India games, we saw 78% of viewership coming in from the Hindi speaking markets (HSM), including Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh,” he said.

The spike in viewership in the HSM region was in part due to match commentary being delivered in Hindi.

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Sethi said the traction of NBA has increased in tier-III and IV cities, with lots of merchandise being sold in the smaller towns and over 3 million active users coming monthly on to Dream 11 to play NBA Fantasy League. According to Sethi, NBA India has received many licensing offers for NBA Stores and cafes, as well as offers from some states to start NBA Academy with full support from the government.

“It’s all work in progress. There have been multiple touchpoints and now it is all about joining the dots,” Sethi said. The association also runs women’s profession league, WNBA, with 12 teams, and the official minor G League with 26 teams. It recently launched esports league NBA 2K League.
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