Originally published on futuresport.co on January 3, 2017
Basketball has always been dominated by the US and has struggled to make the transition to the UK, what could be improved to make the game more successful?
Basketball in the US is booming with an estimated 80 million American basketball fans, and more importantly many of them are millennials. Interestingly, 9.6 million basketball fans are also eSport fans according to NewZoo. eSports gives millennials the active engagement they desire and thrills they don’t get in other types of entertainment. According to FiveThirtyEight and Basketball Reference, 97% of the value created by players in the NBA is generated through millennials. Basketball in the UK has never enjoyed huge popularity or media exposure. It is a fact that not many English people know the rules of basketball. However, Adam Silver, the NBA’s commissioner, stated that basketball’s goal is to be the “No2 sport in the UK”.
The traditional sport fan base in the US and UK is ageing, with a significant drop off among 18 to 24-year-olds. According to Ampere Analysis only 14% of their surveyed users “love sport” in the 18-24 age bracket, considerably less than the 22% of those that indicated their love for TV shows. Traditional team sports in the US are losing young players due to the fact that younger generations have stopped playing a second sport. Thankfully, 75% of US youngsters play some sport at high school level. Similarly, traditional team sports in the UK are losing young players. Surprisingly, basketball has managed to maintain its popularity behind football, rugby and cricket.
Competition for the attention of millennials has intensified but where do millennials watch sports videos? According to The Future of Sports 2016 report, millennials between 13 to 24-year-olds watch sports videos on YouTube and SnapChat, while 25 to 34-year-olds prefer to watch sports videos on Facebook and ESPN. Millennials want to interact with the content produced by their teams, and in some cases they also want to co-create the content. The NBA has invested in partnerships with technology and social media partners like Facebook to promote the sport among the younger generations and especially among millennials. For example, the NBA in partnership with BroadbandTV (BBTV), the largest multi-platform network in the world, have recently created NBA Playmakers, an innovative community for video creators focused on basketball, players and basketball culture. In the UK, the NBA announced the launch of the #MyNBAstory Contest to engage with millennials.
Currently NBA basketball players are among the 8 out of the 12 top best paid athletes across professional sports. A few English players made a career in the NBA like Luol Deng and John Amaechi; unfortunately, salaries in the British Basketball League (BBL) are far below from their counterparts in Europe and millions away from the NBA. The NBA, has 60 employees in London compared to 6 employees at the BBL offices in Leicester. NBA Global Games comes to London every year and sell out tickets in a matter of hours. Tickets sell on StubHub for upto £1,160. A BBL game for a family (2 adults and 3 children) at the Leicester Riders’ Arena costs £35.
It is great that BT Sport subscribers can enjoy watching the NBA season and NBA Finals; unfortunately, thousands of kids from modest households can only watch highlights or follow the NBA on social media. Basketball in the UK was introduced by the YMCA and has always been seen as a sport for youngsters from poorer backgrounds, and currently over 40% of London Youth Games (LYG) basketball participants live in the most deprived 20% of postcodes, compared to 27% on average for LYG. Thankfully, this season the BBC is broadcasting 31 live matches of the BBL on the BBC website and mobile app. The BBL and the recently created British Basketball Federation (BBF) have agreed to a new 10-year license agreement to continue as the top men’s division in the UK. Interestingly, all BBL games are now available online via the new official British Basketball League streaming provider, LiveBasketball.TV.
According to Kevin Routledge, Chairman of the Leicester Riders, the reasons why elite basketball is not growing in the UK is due to funding uncertainty, reduced level of collaboration between clubs, leagues and federations; clubs not owning a purpose-built facility; difficulty in attracting fans to weekday games; the misalignment of basketball at schools, colleges, universities, BBL clubs, and national teams; coaching standards and lack of opportunities of playing against better European teams. The Basketball Champions League, a new partnership between FIBA and 10 European leagues, would be a great platform for the top BBL teams to get experience in elite basketball to complement their off season preparation matches against top European teams.
The missing ingredients of the BBL league are games played at club-owned venues, broadcast free on TV/online/mobile, showcasing talented and experienced players (home-grown and foreign) paid a decent salary, supported by successful coaches, at UK and European basketball events, and supported by local sponsors and authorities. The BBL needs to promote partnerships among owners, universities and colleges, the BBF and national sponsors. BBL clubs need stable funding to hire staff and to partner with technology companies to create databases to engage millennials and their families. Social Media strategy and management of BBL clubs is improving but there is room for improvement. Board Members of the BBL and BBF need to work closer with national and international stakeholders (including the NBA and other European basketball leagues) to inform authorities about the educational values of basketball as a sport and the affordable and exciting entertainment available for families in big cities across the UK.