Tuesday December 5, 2023

The Fight to Make Basketball Matter in the United Kingdom

  • Investment firm 777 Partners is investing heavily in basketball in the United Kingdom.
  • The firm sees an under-the-radar opportunity in the country.
London Lions player hangs on rim after big dunking during a game
British Basketball League
Copy Link
Link Copied
Link Copied

The initial idea was just to invest in basketball in London, anticipating the NBA’s growth in Europe.

Investment firm 777 Partners purchased the British Basketball League’s London Lions in 2020, but it turns out that was merely the starting point for a much larger project.

“As we began to do the work on the opportunity and ascertain why basketball was not a thing in the U.K., we discovered a lot of interesting and frankly regrettable dynamics that were at play,” Adam Weiss, vice president at 777 Partners, explained.

The sport has strong levels of participation among British youth, a racially and socioeconomically diverse cohort of fans among adults, and very little funding from the government or other sources.

“It blows our mind that basketball is not bigger in London, and we know the reasons why,” said Juan Arciniegas, managing director at 777. “We’re trying to attack those reasons to make it where we believe it should be.”

  • The 2018-19 Sport England Active Lives Survey found that basketball was the second-most played team sport in the country after soccer.
  • While adult participation has hovered between 2-3% of the population, per the survey, 12-15% of school-aged children played weekly over the four academic years ending 2020-21, beating out sports such as cricket, rugby, and golf.
  • The NBA played one game in London each year from 2013 to 2019, regularly selling out the roughly 19,000-seat O2 Arena.

Meanwhile, the government’s U.K. Sport, which provides funding with an eye toward Olympic and Paralympic success, doled out $1.7 million to support basketball ahead of the Paris 2024 Summer Games, out of $295.6 million in awards.

The U.K. national basketball team has only participated in the Olympics when the country hosted the event in 1948 and 2012, has never qualified for the FIBA World Cup, and has never finished above 13th in the EuroBasket tournament (though the women’s team notched a fourth place finish in 2019). NBA players from the country, such as Luol Deng, Ogugua Anunoby, and Ben Gordon, are few and far between.

The NFL will play three games in London in the 2023-24 season.

The NFL Has Big Plans in London, Germany, Mexico, and Beyond

The NFL is taking the next step in its international strategy.
October 22, 2022

Boxing, canoeing, cycling, and equestrian were among the sports that received around 10 times more funding than basketball, while skateboarding, fencing, surfing, and climbing received comparable amounts.

However, the lack of an established institutional presence for U.K. basketball presents its own opportunity: 777 has also invested in the 10-team British Basketball League and is working to build the sport through its vision.

Who Plays?

Weiss sees a market opportunity in British basketball, but he also sees a social cause.

It’s for the disaffected East and South London community, mostly immigrants, that have been neglected by British institutions,” he said.

  • A 2019-20 Sport England survey found that among Britons who play basketball, 47% are from non-white backgrounds — far more than other sports, which top out at around 30% in that metric. 
  • While white English and Welsh residents made up 81.9% of the population according to the 2021 census, the picture was quite different in London, which was 40.2% non-white.

Given those demographics, Weiss sees the aforementioned funding disparity as not just a misallocation, but a travesty.

“The government has institutionally and systematically not supported the sport of basketball. The consequence of that is inequity felt amongst minority groups and lower economic classes,” Weiss said. 

  • According to 777’s own research, 59% of ethnic minorities and 35% of all respondents don’t feel British sports teams represent the diversity of the nation. 
  • The firm’s research also found that ethnic minorities feel sports can divert people from antisocial activities and help overcome adversity.

With help from the British government, the NBA, or other investors all uncertain, 777 is willing to make this a very long-term investment. The firm does not have defined funds with predetermined exit dates, and no short-to-medium-term plans to cash out.

“Over the next 10 years, I would say [our investment] is going to be more in the hundreds of millions than in the millions,” said Weiss.

Soccer Synergy

While the firm’s biggest verticals are insurance, aviation, and financial services, 777 has growing sports interests, which to date have centered on European soccer, a market where they see an intriguing combination of history and volatility. 

Promotion and relegation can create big swings in team revenue and value, and media rights at the top levels can bring big payouts to teams. Even among teams with no fear of relegation, whether or not a club qualifies for the UEFA Champions League can produce big spikes and drops in year-to-year income.

UK Could Reap $5.3B in Benefits From Sports

The UK economy could receive benefits of up to $5.3 billion in…
December 6, 2021

Scanning the teams they’ve invested in, it’s easy to spot a theme: 

  • 777’s soccer stakes include clubs in Italy, France, Belgium, Argentina, Spain, and as of last month, Germany. 
  • All were founded in the 19th century.

“One of the many characteristics we’re looking for is we’re finding clubs that are not at their peak,” Arciniegas explained. “Hopefully they had a peak before, so they’re very historic clubs with massive fan bases and a very identifiable brand and culture and history.”

The promotion/relegation system provides plenty of upside if the clubs can return to previous glory.

“We’re acquiring them at a [cyclically attractive] price, and the only place they have to go is up,” said Arciniegas.

Hear Them Roar

The vision for the London Lions is to help them rise from the ashes into a viable asset.

Weiss sees the British Basketball League in general as a way of learning about and embracing the future of sports consumption and technology integration without having to go through the same steps as older leagues.

Los Angeles Chargers player Tevaughn Campbell warms up before Eagles match-up

For Some Pro Athletes on Visas, The Future Isn’t Guaranteed

Lawyers and agents fight to keep the door open for international athletes.
November 27, 2022

“We have the benefit of modern programming language and new technologies to build the future state of sports leagues,” he said. “We’re not encumbered by media rights [contracts] or players unions — we can be really experimental.”

The league recently streamed a game on TikTok and is paying special attention to short-form platforms as it targets a younger audience which may not be in the market for hours-long viewing experiences.

Original content that introduces British and global audiences to basketball culture in the U.K. will be essential, and 777 has a unique opportunity with its on-the-ground presence across the pond.

“We’re not gonna be better than the NBA at putting a product on the court or hosting games,” said Weiss. “But we can beat them in content creation that actually reflects the zeitgeist that is basketball in the U.K.”

Copy Link
Link Copied
Link Copied

What to Read

Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic looks to move the ball past Houston Rockets forward Jabari Smith Jr. during the second quarter at the American Airlines Center.

The NBA Has Autumn Relevance Thanks To In-Season Tournament

The league set a new attendance record in the month of November.

Would Disney's ESPN Walk Away From The NBA?

Will financial pressures impact the company's decision with a longtime partner?

New Indiana Pacers Investor Could Offer Succession Option

The Pacers are selling a 20% minority stake in the team.
The College Football Playoff is considering rotating TV networks for the national championship game.

CFP Considers Super Bowl-Like Rotation For National Championship Game

Multiple networks could share rights to the championship game, sources told FOS.
podcast thumbnail mobile
Front Office Sports Today

Premier League Sets New Bar with Media Deals


Featured Today

The future of the Pac-12 rests on a court decision.
November 24, 2023

The Pac-12 Plays Its Final Regular-Season Game. Then A Court Decides Its Fate.

The conference's future rests with a court decision.
Lane Kiffin
November 9, 2023

Ole Miss, Lane Kiffin Lawyers Argue for Dismissal of Player Lawsuit

FOS obtained audio of Lane Kiffin's interaction with the player behind lawsuit.
LSU Lady Tigers head coach Kim Mulkey reacts against the Iowa Hawkeyes during the NCAA Womens Basketball Final Four National Championship at American Airlines Center.
November 6, 2023

Who Is The Highest-Paid Women’s College Basketball Coach?

LSU rewarded Kim Mulkey after winning a national title after her second year leading the program.


Powered By

Careers in Sports

Looking for a new job? Check out these featured listings and search for openings all over the world.
Multiple - USA Careers
Live Nation
Multiple - USA Careers
Saco Bay PT
Multiple - USA Careers

In Light of More Player Defection Talk, PGA Tour Pens Optimistic Memo

Players on policy board look to convey sense of calm, optimism.
A Bundesliga camera operator during a match
November 30, 2023

DFL Will See At Least Three Bids For $1B Bundesliga Media Stake

Investment plan to keep up with European rivals takes key step forward.
December 3, 2023

MLB Clubs Brace for Record Player Spending As Winter Meetings Kick Off

Expected record-level contract for Ohtani set to highlight offseason activity.

NHL’s Chris Foster on Amplifying Content Distribution With Automation

Learn how the NHL is using WSC Sports to increase fan engagement.
November 30, 2023

Pittsburgh Seeks the Spoils of NFL Draft Traveling Road Show

NFL team looks to host key league event on Pittsburgh's North Shore.
November 30, 2023

PGA Tour Expects To Add Another Investor To Pair With Saudi PIF

The PGA Tour is still working toward the Dec. 31 deadline.
November 29, 2023

PGA Tour's $100M Incentive Program May Be On Thin Ice

Jordan Spieth says the Player Impact Program isn't needed.
November 29, 2023

Celeb-Packed Group Makes Biggest Deal Ever For Sailing Team

Ownership group for U.S. team includes figures from sports, entertainment, and technology.