Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets shoots the ball against Bones Hyland #5 and Norman Powell #24 of the Los Angeles Clippers during the second half of a preseason game at Crypto.com Arena on October 19, 2023 in Los Angeles, California.
Kevork Djansezian | Getty Images
As the new NBA season tips off this week, the league is seeing more international interest than ever.
The NBA said it expects fans from more than 200 countries to tune into primetime games in more than 50 languages this season, with interest across all international markets increasing significantly from last season.
Global business accounts for about 10% of total team and league revenue, according to a person familiar with the matter. It hit an all-time high during last year, and the NBA expects more growth this year, said the person, who wasn’t authorized to publicly discuss the information.
To cater to the rise in international demand, the league is instituting a three-pronged approach, including an initiative to air games during primetime in certain global markets, bolster programs for kids and sharpen its focus on particular regions such as India.
“We’re meeting that demand by making it as easy as possible for international fans to follow the league and their favorite teams and players, whether on linear television, social media, or digital platforms like the NBA App,” said Matt Brabants, senior vice president and head of international content partnerships.
A significant factor driving the surge in international interest is the number of international players taking part in the league this season, according to Samantha Engelhardt, the NBA’s senior vice president of global strategy and innovation.
This season, the NBA has a record number of international players join opening-night rosters at a total of 125 international players from 40 countries and territories across six continents, including fan favorites like the Nikola Jokić of Serbia, who led the champion Denver Nuggets to an opening night win Tuesday, and the Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo of Greece. The league’s No. 1 draft pick this year, the San Antonio Spurs’ Victor Wembanyama of France, has been surging in popularity as fans and experts alike call him a once-in-a-generation talent.
“They’re driving such significant interest in their home countries and around the world,” Engelhardt said. “Last season, we saw TV viewership grow in several European countries, and it’s no surprise that those countries are consistent with where we’re seeing the great European players playing and driving interest in their region.”
Brabants added that TV viewership of NBA games in Serbia was up 50% year-over-year last season because Jokić “captured the country’s attention with his incredible play,” as he led the Nuggets to their first championship.
This season, all 30 NBA teams feature at least one international player, and 15 international players on opening-night rosters have been NBA All-Stars.
As the NBA prepares to cater to a new demographic, Engelhardt said the league is utilizing a three-pronged approach:
Global outreach to kids: The league is focused on creating opportunities for children across the globe to participate in basketball with programs like Basketball Without Borders and NBA Basketball School, she said, the former of which has seen “tremendous success.” Of the record number of international players this season, 38 participated in Basketball Without Borders prior to making it to the professional court.
More accessible live games: The NBA is bringing the basketball experience to international fans through events, merchandise, branded attractions and live games, Engelhardt said. To enhance the viewing experience for fans in time zones in Europe, Brabants said the league has instituted an initiative called “NBA Saturdays and Sundays” to air more games in European primetime, as well as the Middle East and Africa.
Sharper market focus: The final part of the international strategy involves making NBA programming more accessible and localized, which includes bolstering its social media community. Nearly 70% of the league’s followers are from outside the U.S. In Brazil, Prime Video – the official media partner of the NBA – will exclusively stream 123 live regular season games. The partnership also included a viewing party of the season kickoff Tuesday at the NBA Store Arena in Sao Paulo, a 1,500 square meter retail space selling NBA products and hosting interactive experiences and events.
French basketball player Victor Wembanyama gestures while arriving at San Antonio International Airport in San Antonio, Texas, on June 23, 2023.
Patrick T. Fallon | AFP | Getty Images
The league is also catering to specific markets, like in India, where they’ve partnered with Bollywood actor Ranveer Singh to celebrate the cultural significance of basketball in the country, Brabants said. The NBA also has more than 400 international branded stores, like Brazil’s NBA Park in Brazil, which opened last November.
The international reach plays a significant role in the NBA’s strategy as it looks to craft its next media deal. League officials have previously relayed their interest in broadening the NBA’s reach through television and media across the world.
“We saw record digital and social consumption in several markets across Asia including India – which surpassed 100 million unique viewers across linear television, social media and digital media platforms for the first time ever – and the Philippines, where the league generated a record 923 million engagements across our localized social media accounts,” Brabants said.
The league has previously had an uneasy relationship with China, which had stopped airing NBA games after a dispute sparked by a Houston Rockets executive sharing an image supporting pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong. However, Engelhardt said the market remains an important focus for the NBA as they find ways to make programming accessible.
As international interest in North American basketball continues to rise, Brabants said the league is continuing to assess what their international fans need as the league comes off the most competitive regular season in its history.
“Our international fans are not only passionate, but they are also very knowledgeable and sophisticated — they follow the same storylines and news that resonate in the U.S.,” he said.