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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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More NBA Games Abroad? That’s A Challenge During the Regular Season

  • The NBA will again play games in Paris and Mexico City next season.
  • Scheduling challenges make it difficult to expand the regular-season matchups.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA is just a few weeks away from the playoffs, marching toward the conclusion of a season that began with a record 125 international players on opening-night rosters and included games in Mexico City and Paris. Those cities will host regular-season games again during the 2024–25 campaign, and they’re not the only foreign locales looking for a piece of the league.

“The good news is there’s no shortage of interest from cities and countries wanting to host our NBA games,” deputy commissioner Mark Tatum tells Front Office Sports. But as U.S. leagues evaluate how to expand their global footprint—the NFL, for example, will make its regular-season debut in Brazil this fall and plans to play up to eight international games per season in 2025 and beyond—the NBA is taking a measured approach on adding foreign countries to its slate. “The challenge for us on regular-season games is just one of a calendar and of the window,” Tatum says. (The NBA has also previously hosted regular-season games in Japan and the U.K.) “Our schedule is a pretty condensed schedule to play 82 games. Plus, now we have the Emirates NBA Cup that we have to squeeze into a season.”

That all means cities like Abu Dhabi, which “would love” to host a regular-season game, Tatum says, will have to keep settling for preseason matchups. (The Celtics and Nuggets will play two exhibition games there in October.) “It really does put a lot of pressure on the schedule,” Tatum says of taking the league abroad. “And I think that’s why we have to focus on regular-season games in places that don’t put an unnecessary tax on the travel of a team.”

Around the World

If and when the NBA decides to take more regular-season games abroad, the world’s second-most populous continent will be on the league’s wish list. 

Already, the NBA-backed Basketball Africa League is finding success in its fourth season, with nearly 25,000 fans having attended games in Pretoria, South Africa, earlier this month. The BAL will visit a record four countries this season, but ultimately the NBA would like to move from a ​​caravan model to a home and away system, with teams traveling to each other’s home markets.

“The challenge right now is that we don’t have the facilities [and] the arenas in enough countries in Africa to do that,” Tatum explains. “But our long-term goal, and I think [we] will get there over time, is that all 54 countries in Africa would have a world-class basketball arena that could host a BAL game—and NBA games at some point in the future as well.”

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