• Loading stock data...
Wednesday, July 24, 2024
Join us this September for Tuned In Request to Attend

Can International Growth Spark NBA’s 1st Mexico Franchise?

  • The Spurs and Heat play the league's 31st Mexico game on Saturday.
  • The NBA has experienced 15% YoY growth internationally for the last decade.
San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Suns players run past half court in front of NBA Mexico City game logo in 2019
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

In October 1992, the Houston Rockets defeated the San Antonio Spurs 104-102 in an exhibition game — an otherwise unremarkable event if not because it was the first NBA game ever contested in Mexico.

That Hakeem Olajuwon — the first-ever non-American NBA MVP — starred in that game is emblematic of what the league is trying to accomplish outside of the United States.

Thirty years later, the NBA returns to Mexico City on Saturday with a matchup between the Spurs and the Miami Heat — the league’s 31st game in Mexico, the most ever played in a country outside the U.S. or Canada.

Mexico City — North America’s largest city — has been the epicenter of a fertile, growing basketball market. The league has 30 million Mexican fans, and basketball is the second-most-played sport there, NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum tells Front Office Sports.

“One day, we hope to get to number one,” he says. “You do that by doing grassroots programs in the market, by bringing NBA games to the market.”

After years of planting those seeds, the league took it a step further in 2019 when it announced that the Mexico City Capitanes would join the NBA G League.

COVID prevented the Capitanes from playing in Mexico City until this season — and their presence there is giving the league a crash course on having a permanent franchise south of the border.

“G League teams in the United States and Canada are going down there to play,” says Tatum. “So we’re getting that experience of, ‘How does a G League team operate in that market? How are the fans responding to having their own team down there?’ It’s been a great learning experience so far.”

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert talks to members of the media

WNBA Passes on 2024 Expansion, Shooting for 2025

Toronto, Nashville, and the Bay Area are all contenders for WNBA expansion.
December 15, 2022

While the deputy commissioner emphasizes that expansion is not in the league’s immediate plans with a new collective bargaining agreement and media rights deal taking priority, he does say that Mexico City “has to be in consideration” for an NBA franchise when the time comes.

Given its proximity to the U.S., Mexico has been the primary testing ground for the NBA’s international strategy — which Tatum describes as having three prongs.

The first is to give more opportunities for boys and girls to play basketball. The league runs youth programs such as Jr. NBA, NBA Academy, and Basketball Without Borders, producing 105 NBA and WNBA players, including Joel Embiid and Pascal Siakam.

The second prong is to bring the NBA experience worldwide through live games. Since 1978, NBA teams have played 205 games in over 20 countries.

The third and final prong is to make games and programming more accessible via television and social media.

  • NBA programming has reached 214 countries in more than 50 languages.
  • Tatum says the league has made a “concerted effort” to schedule more Saturday and Sunday games early in the day so that they’ll be in primetime for the European markets and beyond.
  • NBA social platforms have more than 2 billion likes and followers across league, team, and player accounts — with almost 70% coming from outside the U.S.

Of course, much of the NBA’s international popularity is concentrated in Europe — both from a fan and player development perspective.

The last four MVP awards have been given out to two European players — Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece) and Nikola Jokic (Serbia). Slovenian national Luka Doncic is a favorite to win this year’s award. And then there’s super prospect Victor Wembanyama from France, who is a virtual lock to be drafted first overall in the 2023 Draft.

The surge in talent may have begun with one of the most famous basketball teams of all time.

“Probably the real spark was the Dream Team,” says Tatum. “Coming out of [the 1992 Barcelona Olympics], you had kids like Tony Parker from France, or Pau Gasol from Spain, or Dirk Nowitzki from Germany, who saw that Dream Team, and it inspired them to play basketball.

“Those players have inspired the next generation of players.”

Two Basketball Africa League teams face off against each other

Basketball Africa League Ready for Third Season

BAL will return to Dakar, Cairo, and Kigali from March through May.
December 14, 2022

Africa has also featured heavily in the NBA’s global aspiration. The league feels it can help drive economic growth on the continent.

“With the young, fast-growing population of Africa, they’re going to need to create new industries, new opportunities, and right now sports is viewed only as competition, it’s not viewed as a business,” Tatum says. “What we’re trying to do is demonstrate to both the public sector and the private sector that sports is a business, and that if you invest in sports — in infrastructure, in stadiums, for example — there is a huge opportunity for high return on that.”

As such, the league now has four offices across the continent and recently announced the third season of the Basketball Africa League.

It all adds up to big business for the NBA.

While the league won’t disclose specific revenue figures, Tatum says overseas business has grown about 15% year-over-year in each of the last ten years — and the league expects to grow 20% YoY next year.

In time, that exponential growth could finally allow basketball to be the biggest sport on Earth.

“The numbers are large,” says Tatum. “The numbers start with a B. That’s how big the business is internationally — but we think we’re just scratching the surface.”

Linkedin
Whatsapp
Copy Link
Link Copied
Link Copied

What to Read

DSG Nears Deals With Comcast, NBA, NHL to Aid Reorganization

The bankrupt Bally Sports parent company nears deals with Comcast, the NBA, and the NHL.

NBA Rejects TNT Sports’ Bid, Chooses Amazon for National Media Rights

The league rejects TNT Sports’ bid to exercise its matching rights, saying the terms did not meet Amazon.
Jun 6, 2024; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Shaquille O'Neal looks on before the game between the Boston Celtics and the Dallas Mavericks in game one of the 2024 NBA Finals at TD Garden.

TNT Launches an A-List Marketing Blitz to Save ‘Inside the NBA’

The push has fans, players, and celebrities making noise.

The Perfect Storm Propelling ‘EA Sports College Football’ to Early Success

Growing fandom and a long wait have already reaped dividends for EA.
podcast thumbnail mobile
Front Office Sports Today

NFL’s 18-Game Season & Contract Holdouts, Olympics’ Newest Sport

0:00

Featured Today

The FTC Noncompete Ruling Could Change MMA As We Know It

Fighters could see their options—and earnings—grow.
July 21, 2024

O No Canada: The Next Big Sports Betting Scandal Could Erupt North of the Border

‘It’s open-season for match-fixing up there.’
July 20, 2024

The Road to the Return of ‘EA Sports College Football’

This summer, the biggest development in college sports is virtual.
Apr 15, 2024; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Caitlin Clark poses with WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert after being selected with the number one overall pick to the Indiana Fever during the 2024 WNBA Draft at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
July 16, 2024

Women’s Sports Merch Is a $4 Billion Market, but Supply Isn’t Meeting Demand

Retailers can’t make women’s sports apparel fast enough.

Salt Lake City’s Olympic Host Deal Includes Last-Minute Doping Clause

Utah officials are now mandated to uphold the ‘supreme authority’ of the World Anti-Doping Agency.
July 7, 2024

Tour de France Forced to Navigate the Paris Olympics, Too

The Olympics are disrupting the route of the iconic cycling race.
Jul 14, 2024; Miami, FL, USA; fans rush the gates before the Copa America Final match between Argentina and Colombia at Hard Rock Stadium.
July 15, 2024

Copa América Fallout: Greater Logistical Challenges Await 2026 World Cup

Argentina beat Colombia after unticketed fans entered the stadium.
Sponsored

TopSpin 2K25 Brings the Legends of Tennis to Your Living Room

2K sports is reviving a classic with TopSpin 2K25.
June 7, 2024

U.S. Cricket Stuns Goliath Behind Its Star, an Ivy League Software Engineer

Team USA upset Pakistan, one of cricket’s superpowers, in overtime.
Jun 16, 2022; New York, New York, USA; A detail view of The FIFA World Cup Trophy sits on a stand outside of 30 Rockefeller Plaza.
June 5, 2024

Saudi Arabia, Likely World Cup Host, Slammed With Workers’ Rights Abuse Claims

The nation needs to build at least 10 stadiums to host.
May 6, 2024; Paris, FRANCE; A general view of construction of the Eiffel Tower Stadium, the venue for beach volleyball, in preparation for the Paris 2024 Summer Olympic Games.
June 4, 2024

Microsoft Warns of Russian Olympic Disinformation Campaign

Russian actors used an AI-generated Tom Cruise in a fake propaganda film.
Aug 18, 2016; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Julio Cesar La Cruz (CUB, red) faces Adilbek Niyazymbetov (KAZ, blue) during boxing final in the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games at Riocentro - Pavilion
May 29, 2024

Discredited Boxing Organization Vows to Award Prize Money to Paris Olympians

The IBA, unrecognized by the IOC, vowed $50,000 to boxing gold medalists.