‘Indian market is intriguing’

“We believe the development in India is going to be much faster (than in China) because we are making more merchandising available, advising companies that want to do business with us, having clinics and challenges. We are on our way,” says the NBA Commissioner David Stern in a chat with V. V. Ramanan.

The NBA (National Basketball Association), like the English Premier League and Formula One, is keenly followed in India, thanks to the comprehensive coverage of these events on TV and in print media for close to two decades now, and on websites.

One of the key figures responsible for making NBA very popular over five continents and in more than 200 countries is its dynamic Commissioner David Stern. He is very bullish about the Indian market and foresees a sustained growth for NBA in the years ahead.

The Commissioner of the high-profile and glamorous league since 1984, Stern took time off from his busy schedule to speak to this correspondent during the NBA Finals that was won by the local favourite, Miami Heat.

“India is a huge opportunity. The Indian market is very intriguing to us and we are beginning to see a serious potential,” said Stern, talking of NBA’s plans for the country.

“We opened an office in Mumbai in October 2011 and have consistently had events like the Mahindra Challenge or the Junior NBA/WNBA clinics or camps — over 400 of them. We also have a working relationship with the Basketball Federation of India,” he said.

Stern is very pleased with NBA’s initiative in India. “The Mahindra Challenge is an incredible event. We have kids travelling 10 hours by bus for the event. We know there is a hardy large group of fans, and it is our job to expand that group,” he said.

“Most importantly, we have also increased the numbers and the exposure that we have through TV channels, like Sony or Ten Sports, or Internet sites.

“We are beginning to see a change. The numbers may be small but they are triple of what they were a year ago. This development is encouraging to us. We will continue to invest,” he added.

When asked about NBA’s plans for scaling up of operations in India over the next few years, Stern said, “This is just the beginning. We will augment resources, especially people because they are our best resource. I expect to ramp up the resources dramatically over the next 3-5 years.”

When asked for his views on the Indian experience vis-à-vis the association’s involvement with India’s neighbour and an equally big market, China, Stern said India would develop at a faster pace.

“We started in China in 1990 and one can see the results there. But we believe the development in India is going to be much faster because we are making more merchandising available, advising companies that want to do business with us, having clinics and challenges and so on. We are on our way,” he said.

Twenty years ago, NBA made its presence felt at the Olympics by sending a ‘Dream Team’, made up of greats like Michael Jordan, ‘Magic’ Johnson and Larry Bird, which lit up the courts in Barcelona and dazzled fans. Stern, who played an important role in that momentous decision, said he was looking forward to celebrating the anniversary in London and gave a glimpse of what the impact has been for NBA since 1992.

“In 20 years we have gone to 215 countries. We have opened offices in 16 markets outside the U.S. We have extensive global alliances with adidas, Coca-Cola etc. We have had an enormous amount of growth,” he said.

Shedding light on NBA’s relationship with the Olympic Movement, Stern made a key point about the age limit for players from the association at the quadrennial event. “One of the things we are talking about is setting an age limit beyond which we won’t lease our players. Like in football. We don’t have a firm view on it yet, but are beginning to talk about it.”