NBA Marketing Mantra: Think Globally, Act Locally

The NBA is putting on a full-court press to bring its product to fans and consumers worldwide. This season, NBA games and programming will be seen in 215 countries and territories, with an all-time high of 164 international broadcasts in 43 languages reaching an audience of more than 3.1 billion people. The league’s marketing partners have actively been supporting that strategy even as they work to expand their own global interests. At the forefront of this agenda is Heidi Ueberroth, who has since January 2000 been evp, global media properties and marketing partnerships for NBA Entertainment, responsible for the development and distribution of NBA and WNBA content worldwide and for all global marketing partnership agreements within the league’s extensive media inventory. Ueberroth, who joined the NBA in 1994 as director of international media programs, talks about marketing the league.

Q: What are the main challenges to marketing the NBA outside of the U.S.?

A: Demand for the game. Basketball participation is increasing around the world, and along with that is the interest in following the NBA, its teams and players. … We are constantly trying to keep pace with the interest, provide the appropriate amount of human resources and training in-country and increase the number of opportunities for our fans to interact with the NBA locally.

What are your short- and long-term goals and strategies in global NBA marketing?

It starts with the game. We have 10 offices overseas with staff dedicated to growing the sport of basketball. They work with local leagues, federations and sports ministries on a variety of grassroots basketball programs. Our players traveled this summer for four Basketball Without Borders events, which teaches basketball skills to young people, the importance of teamwork and sportsmanship, educates them about important social issues and builds learning centers in Argentina, Brazil, China and South Africa. Next October, four teams will travel to seven European cities as part of NBA Europe Live, presented by EA Sports, the most ambitious international competition in league history.

Do you feel the NBA has an advantage over other U.S.-based pro sports as far as a global expansion because it has so many marketable international players?

Having 82 players from 36 countries and territories play in the league is a tremendous opportunity for us in growing interest in the game globally. All-Stars like Dirk Nowitzki, Yao Ming and Peja Stojakovic grew up watching Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird on television. Now young people around the world aspire to be the next Pau Gasol, Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili.

Which NBA marketing partners are taking the lead in the NBA’s global expansion?

We have more than 20 marketing partners activating on five continents. This year we conducted events with partners in 80 markets. The Coca-Cola Co., which has been a global partner since 1986, has conducted NBA-themed promotions in more than 60 countries. EA Sports’ support of NBA Europe Live will be our largest international initiative over the next two years. Our footwear partners, Reebok, Nike and Adidas, have strong activity around the world, and this past summer brought Allen Iverson (Reebok), LeBron James (Nike) and Tracy McGrady (Adidas) to China.

In Mexico with Telcel, our telecommunications partner, we staged the first-ever six-city interactive basketball event that featured acrobatic dunk teams as part of an interactive basketball experience for fans.

Are consumers outside the U.S. more receptive to some NBA marketing partners as opposed to others: fast-feeders vs. high-tech, for example?

When it comes to the NBA, we see a lot of similarities in our fans around the world. There is a global teenager that remarkably has many of the same interests and tastes as their U.S. counterparts. They enjoy the fast-paced play of the NBA. Their favorite players are the same from Barcelona to Boston, and they have an affinity for the same products, whether it is cell phones, soft drinks or wearing the latest styles of basketball sneakers. Our youthful fan base is following the NBA through and our nine international sections, like, that are language-specific and feature customized content for fans from different regions around the world. They’re downloading photos, playing fantasy games and participating in trivia contests and sweepstakes online.

What are the biggest challenges facing marketers in China?

Basketball has existed in places like China since the early 1900s, when the sport was brought there by missionaries. There are 300 million basketball players in China, and 75 percent of Chinese males ages 15-24 say that they are NBA fans. So if you have a product or service that is desirable, the scope of meeting the demand is a challenge. We have five new marketing partners in China this year including Amway, which presented the Jr. NBA in China culminating last week with a national middle-school basketball championship; China Mobile, which is providing wireless content to the world’s largest wireless subscriber base of 210 million people; and Nokia, which is embedding NBA video highlights in their video-enabled wireless phones.

We have an enormous opportunity there, but we also have a genuine interest, like we do everywhere we have fans, to give back to the community. While our staff is on the ground in China working on delivering the NBA experience to fans, we are also working closely to provide benefits to the community. Being part of the local community and genuinely making an impact is essential to any company looking to conduct business there long-term.