Traditionally, the problem with American sports has been that whilst they remain incredibly popular at home, they struggle to gain traction abroad. Despite the best efforts of the NFL and American Football, it is still a distant second to soccer in the global football battle.
Similarly, whilst popular in some parts of Asia, baseball is a distant second to cricket when it comes to bat and ball sports. One game though, that is not overshadowed by a more popular variant and is popular in almost every corner of the globe is basketball.
Europe has its own top level basketball leagues and fans tune into the NBA action every week from as far afield as Australia and Japan. It’s fair to say then that basketball is a global game, which raises the question; could an overseas NBA game work?
In this article we take a look at a couple of cities that the league would do well to consider for an overseas NBA game or game week. Read on to find out all about them – let us know your picks in the comments section below.
NBA Global Games
Around the globe, NBA teams have been playing games in foreign countries for years. This has allowed the league to expand their reach to places like China and Europe. It’s not uncommon for the games to be played under slightly different rules than what are normally used by their host country. However, their purpose is the same: to bring NBA teams together and promote basketball around the world.
The first official game featuring a professional NBA team was an exhibition matchup between the Washington Bullets and Maccabi Tel Aviv on 7 September 1978. The then-defending champions lost the game 98–97 at the Yad Eliyahu Arena in Tel Aviv, Israel, marking the first international victory for professional basketball. The Bullets would play three more exhibition games later that year in Beijing and Shanghai in China, and in Quezon City, Philippines.
The first regular season NBA games outside of North America were held in Tokyo, Japan in 1990. The Phoenix Suns and the Utah Jazz split a two-game series. The last NBA Japan Games were in 2003, with the games being held at the Saitama Super Arena.
London, United Kingdom
The Miami Dolphins hosted the New York Giants at Wembley Stadium in 2007 in what was the first of the International Series of NFL games. Since then a number of games have been played in the British capital and in Mexico City.
The games held in the British capital have been a major commercial success, with fans packing out stadiums and viewers from all over the country tuning in to watch the action. It’s only natural then that the NBA should consider playing an international game in London.
The British public have a keen interest in basketball too, with a number of NBA stores dotted around the country and a growing NBA sports betting industry, sportsbooks in the UK offer their customers the opportunity to bet on an NBA spread, as well as countless other markets, just as you’d expect to see for an EPL game.
Whilst basketball is somewhat popular in the United Kingdom, it is absolutely adored in mainland Europe and in particular in Spain. The country has four teams competing in the EuroLeague (Europe’s premier basketball tournament) – Barcelona, Real Madrid, Baskonia and Valencia Basket.
The Spanish capital then would be the ideal place for Spain’s basketball fans to come and pay homage to the NBA.
The country has the infrastructure capable of holding games and there are also a number of players in the NBA with links to Spanish basketball that could celebrate a homecoming in an international game in Madrid.
Asia has long been seen as a major growth area for basketball with the Golden State Warriors and Washington Wizards taking to the Japanese capital in this year’s preseason schedule. The appetite for basketball is clearly there in Japan, but what makes it a great potential location for international games is the infrastructure.
After hosting the Olympic Games, in which the United States men’s basketball team won Gold, Tokyo has the existing structure to host top level basketball games. Expanding to Tokyo would represent a major commercial boost to the NBA and would perhaps be a better idea than taking games to Europe, where the game is already quite popular.
Due to its geographical isolation and distinct domestic sports calendar, Australia is often overlooked as an expansion territory for American sports.
Despite that, Australians still adore basketball, with the country being home to the southern hemisphere’s largest junior basketball tournament.
Taking an international game here wouldn’t only tap into the Australian market, it would also tap into the hundreds of thousands of potential fans in New Zealand.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
In South America Catholicism is the main religion, closely followed by soccer. Trying to unseat soccer as the premier sport would be an unwise decision in Latin America, but there is one country where there is potential for the NBA – Argentina.
Whilst soccer is still the number one sport in Argentina, the sporting public there have an open mind and enjoy a wide range of other sports including, bizarrely, rugby. There is also a growing passion for basketball, with NBA viewing figures steadily climbing in South America’s most southern country.
Buenos Aires, the bustling metropolis, would be the ideal place for Latin American expansion.
In recent years, the NBA has taken a keen interest in expanding their reach beyond North America. This expansion has seen the league partake in regular-season and playoff games across Europe, Asia, Australia, South Africa and now Israel as part of the NBA Global Games initiative. The inaugural NBA Global Games was held last year in China and although there were some inconsistencies with officiating and scheduling (leading to low attendances), it is clear that the league desires to continue this global growth movement. What do you think? Let us know in the comments below!