The Beautiful Chaos of the NBA - and Why the UK Can Learn to Love it
James Fenn looks at the NBA and it's quest to crack the UK market.
This week the National Basketball Association returns to the UK, as the O2 Arena hosts its fifth regular season game. With the Association just one of several American sports leagues pushing an expansion agenda beyond the States, it’s another chance for the NBA to grow its presence this side of the Atlantic.
The task, on the face of it, is a tough one. The same spectator sports that were popular 50 years ago in the UK are largely still popular today- Football, Rugby, Cricket, Tennis, Golf - the list goes on. The UK’s favourite spectator sports are well established, traditional affairs.
But in today’s digital age, Sports fans demand more content than ever before. With traditional media having long lost its hold on sports consumption, the market is more open to new sporting offers than ever before. According to the 2014 ‘Knowthefan’ report , 61% of fans in the UK now consume sports online, and 44% of fans that access sports content on the computer do so at least once a day. The growth of the likes of Whistle Sports is testament to this appetite for sports content online. In this climate of increased demand and round-the-clock publishing, the offerings from across the pond are looking more attractive than ever.
Arguably, none has a better chance to truly crack the market than the NBA. Basketball is already one of the most popular ‘mass participation’ sports in the UK (according to Sport England). Needing just a ball and a hoop, it’s a sport already played in parks, leisure centres and playgrounds up and down the country. This grass roots affinity gives the NBA a key advantage over the other major US import, the NFL.
Now participation alone doesn’t make a great spectator sport. Luckily for the NBA, it’s one of the most wildly entertaining leagues around. The last few weeks serve as a perfect example why - the NBA truly is completely bonkers.
30 teams, 82 game seasons and playoffs made up of seven game series lasting well over a month. With teams regularly playing 3-4 games in a week, the season flies by in a blur. Throw in all the high flying dunks, big name personalities and spectacular scoring the NBA is famous for, and you have a product that is legitimately great entertainment, night after night.
Arguably even more fun than the action on the court is the drama that takes place off it. As the NBA approaches its trade deadline on February 19th, the entire league is in flux. The good teams are trying to get better, in the thick of playoff race that changes by the day. The bad teams are trying to get worse, swapping wins this year for draft picks, and the hope of success further down the line. Imagine if Leicester or QPR in the Premier League started offloading their best players mid-way through the season to try and intentionally lose more games! With no relegation and a draft system in the NBA, it’s a process that’s common place.
Almost every other day a new trade sends players and picks across the Association. At time of writing, the Celtics, Grizzlies and Pelicans are working on a trade including FIVE players and a handful of draft picks changing hands. As fun as the end of the January transfer window is in the Premier League, no league rips up the team sheets quite the way the NBA does.
As with all the American sports, the NBA still has the problem of access in the UK. The games are on awkward times, and only handfuls see the air. However, like most of the American Sports, the NBA is leagues ahead of the UK in the quality and quantity of online content it produces (the NBA’s YouTube channel is a great example).With the huge demand of today’s sports fans for digital content, the NBA lives in the UK through excellent highlight packages and other retrospective content. As the NBA comes to London to push for a greater UK following, it may find that the task is getting easier.