A jersey wall at NBA's Mumbai office.
A jersey wall at NBA's Mumbai office.

When work is all about shooting baskets

  • National Basketball Association’s Mumbai office is a tribute to the sport and its players
  • More than a workspace, the office is a three-dimensional showroom for the NBA brand, and a strategic investment into the business of promoting basketball

Shoot some hoops when you need a break from work. Watch a live basketball game on a video wall before you start your workday. Or take a selfie with your favourite team’s jersey. The new office of the National Basketball Association (NBA), a North American professional basketball league, in Mumbai’s Bandra Kurla Complex, bursts with sporting energy.

The workspace brings the NBA brand to life in leaps and bounds, from the foyer to the specially created centrally placed “experience zone". LED screens at the reception stream social media data as well as the latest match statistics. The video wall doubles as a gaming console. A pair of iPads have been pre-loaded with NBA-related trivia. Even the hardwood flooring with court markings, in the centre of the office, has been made to the dimensions of a real-life NBA half-court.

More than a workspace, the office is a three-dimensional showroom for the NBA brand, and a strategic investment into the business of promoting basketball. “We decided to create a space where you can get the feeling of being a part of the NBA," says Siddharth Chury, associate vice-president, global partnerships. “We focus on two parallel pillars, which define the NBA experience in India. One is the grassroots development, the actual participation, getting more kids to play basketball, and the other is the fanbase development, whether it’s through content or TV, through our social media, through gaming or merchandise."

The office has been designed as a creative platform to achieve both goals. Since its opening in February, the team has hosted half a dozen events, including content shoots, gaming, meet-and-greet with visiting athletes, and surprise announcements to teenage winners of its national basketball talent development competition. “There are so many Instagrammable moments, with the jersey wall, the cool LED, the heritage wall. We get a lot of influencers and celebrities in our office, and because it’s so engaging, they just go crazy, which is great. We call fans to our office, and for them, this is the closest you can get to the NBA," says Abhishek Sinha, senior manager, events and marketing. For young fans in particular, a visit to the NBA office is an opportunity to get a glimpse into the business of sports, and assess it as a career option.

Education comes first

A tacit aspect of its workplace strategy, and also one of the office’s biggest strengths, is that it avoids gimmicks. It might evangelize basketball through an engaging narrative, but equally, it educates. For example, the design logic of the meeting rooms have been themed according to the flow of the basketball calendar. The first meeting room, at the entrance of the office, is called “Tip-off", which is the start of the season, and how the game starts. Further on is “All-stars", which refers to an exhibition game that takes place during the mid-season break. Then there is “Playoffs", which is the knockout stage, followed by “Finals", and “MVP", referring to most valuable player. Lastly, the main conference room, “Champions", which has pictures of retired legends like Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson. “You’re going deeper into the season as you walk into the office," says Chury. Most offices have themed meeting rooms, but few think of using them to educate visitors on the brand.

The NBA experience zone.
The NBA experience zone.

It also manages to draw a line around any references to pop culture. Basketball is synonymous with sneaker culture, pop culture and hip-hop music, the world over, but the NBA workplace design maintains focus on the game, and less on the buzz surrounding it.

Instead, it ensures health and fitness is a priority for its most important stakeholder: the employee. Each employee is provided with an ergonomic height-adjustable, sit/stand desk, giving them greater flexibility to change posture at work. Generous individual workspace is complemented with several collaboration spaces, both in the form of enclosed meeting rooms and open areas. “We didn’t have all these meeting rooms in the old office (Prabhadevi). Also, spaces to sit near the desk and more collaborative areas are a great improvement. This is what helps people to interact," says Marc Pulles, lead, basketball operations.

Creating an experience zone

The number of meeting rooms is particularly noteworthy. There are five, for a current headcount of 21, a much higher ratio than most offices, largely to accommodate external agencies and partners who regularly visit the office. “We value our partners a lot because we know that with all the right intentions, with all the investments that we putting into the country, we will not be able to grow the game as much if we were doing this single-handedly," says Chury.

Basketball is an elite sport in India, with a narrow fan base and many challenges to overcome before it scales. So a natural question might be—will this new office, and all the financial investment into creating an experience zone in particular, really help NBA grow its business in India?

A better way to look at it is the lesson it offers in how an office can turn into a three-dimensional showroom for a brand. More than just return on investment, it prompts us to ask, how can spaces become platforms for others to experience brand stories, and can we learn to tell brand stories in space, with energy and enthusiasm? That would be the ultimate slam dunk.

Aparna Piramal Raje is the author of Working Out Of The Box: 40 Stories Of Leading CEOs.Write to us at businessoflife@livemint.com

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