The news of Satnam Singh Bhamara getting into NBA not only got the sporting circuit excited, but has also given a fillip to the game at the grassroots level in India.
The 19-year-old from a small village in Punjab became the first Indian-born player ever selected in the NBA Draft, making history for Indian basketball. He isn’t alone; there are thousands like him waiting for that opportunity. And with numerous leagues in other sports, like International Premier Tennis League, Pro Kabbadi League and Indian Super League, coming up in the country, the decade has turned out to be a significant one for domestic sports.
In a bid to boost the game at grassroots level, NBA had started numerous initiatives in the country, and, over the years, has got an overwhelming response. Says Yannick Colaco, MD, NBA India, “The game is core to the NBA’s global mission. Basketball is a fantastic vehicle to teach youth the importance of exercise, communication, teamwork, sportsmanship and discipline. The NBA has executed over 1,000 events across India with a focus on growing participation at the youth level. Over 1 million youth have participated in our Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA programme.”
Moving beyond metros, the response to the programmes has been fantastic in tier-II cities as well. For instance, the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA programme has over 160 schools and 1.75 lakh youth participants in cities across Kerala. In both Delhi and Hyderabad, it has over 500 teams each participating in the 3×3 competition within NBA Jam.
The viewership numbers agree with this surge in popularity. The official broadcaster of NBA in India, Multi Screen Media’s Sony Six, gets 29% of the viewership from the six metros — Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata — while the rest comes from the other towns.
“We want to cultivate the culture of breakfast vieweing,” says Prasana Krishnan, EVP and business head, Sony Six and Sony Kix, on the timing being a spoiler, as US primetime means early morning here. In the past couple of years, the channel has witnessed a viewership growth of almost 400-500%. The top NBA market comes from Chennai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad, and interestingly, almost one-third of the total viewers are women. NBA commissioner Adam Silver even believes that over time there will be a successful basketball league in India.
The merchandising business, too, has tremendous potential. Colaco says the league’s merchandising business has doubled in India over the past two years. NBA merchandise has been delivered to over 400 cities since the launch of NBAStore.in last year — which illustrates that NBA fans exist across the country.
NBAStore.in offers the latest in NBA jerseys, fan wear, basketball footwear and accessories and shares a strong partnership with global and local brands like Nike, Adidas, Spalding, 2K and Samsonite to develop and distribute NBA merchandise. In addition, the league has partnered with Jabong to create NBAStore.in, a localised e-commerce destination for fans in India. The last time NBA set up its office in the APAC region in China, the fate of the game changed in the country. Now with India on its agenda, we can hope for a slam dunk soon.