Home >Opinion >Columns >India’s wave of sports is one that’s not going to flatten

There’s no doubt about it—sports in India are on the rise. Over the past 20 years, we’ve seen the rise of the Indian Premier League (IPL), and more recently kabaddi, soccer, badminton, hockey and wrestling tournaments. All of these sports have grown in participation and following. None of this is surprising. We’ve seen similar trends around sport across Asia. But one sport has shown impressive potential to become very popular in India—basketball. We have seen basketball participation increase exponentially in India, including growing talent at the elite level and breakthroughs on the international and professional stage, with Princepal Singh advancing from NBA Academy India to the US-based National Basketball Association’s (NBA’s) G League. As a fan of basketball and the NBA, I’m excited to see this growth. I also have the privilege of leading the charge for the sport and the NBA’s efforts across the country as managing director of NBA Asia.

Working in international business has always been my focus. Ever since I entered the workforce, I moved toward a role that would allow me to travel and engage with different cultures. I eventually made my way to McCann Erickson, a global advertising agency network, where I worked as an international media supervisor.

Over time, I became an ‘international expert’, though with one big limitation: I was developing and recommending strategies to global brands even though I had never travelled outside the US. I knew I had to broaden my horizons. It was time to see the world.

So, I bought a one-way ticket to Beijing and spent the next six months backpacking across Asia-Pacific with my wife. Along the way, I knocked on the doors of everyone I knew through my previous role and spent time learning about the region, its challenges, its unique cultures, and its potential. When I returned to the US, I landed a role in the international advertising group at the NBA. That’s when things started to get really interesting.

I was fortunate to join the NBA just as international players were starting to make a significant impact on the league and its global popularity. The 1992 Olympics in Barcelona served as a tipping point for the international growth of the NBA, inspiring a generation of international players like Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol and Yao Ming, who in turn inspired a generation of fans around the world. In time, my remit expanded to include programming sales, and I was extremely fortunate that my job was to travel the world representing a property that I was passionate about and that had growing international appeal.

In 2009, I took up the role of managing director for Asia, overseeing countries as diverse as Japan, the Philippines, Australia, and now India.

It has been an amazing ride. I’ve now been living in Asia for more than a decade, and I still look back fondly on my time backpacking across the region.

Asia has a remarkably sports-savvy population and a growing middle class. Participation in and consumption of sports are increasing. The growth of sporting leagues and university-level tournaments has further allowed youth in Asia to play sports, both recreationally and competitively. This is critical to sport development, as research has shown that if kids play a sport at an early age and enjoy it, they are much more likely to continue to do so throughout their life.

This is why I’m extremely proud of our Jr. NBA programme, which to date has reached more than 24.5 million youth across Southeast Asia, and in India—which is home to the largest Junior NBA programme in the world—has engaged more than 11 million boys and girls from more than 13,000 schools since its inception in 2013.

The growing participation has gone hand in hand with the consumption of sports programming. For us, digital and virtual technology remain key. No matter where fans are, access to live games, off-court and lifestyle content, and other points of connection like merchandise and fantasy gaming must be easily available to fans on the devices and platforms they use most.

The global pandemic has been difficult for everyone, both personally and professionally. In 2021 and beyond, we must redefine relationships with fans through innovative digital solutions that both ensure their health and safety and maintain genuine connections.

Sports brands and properties must aim to deliver an array of viewing options for current and future generations of sports fans by establishing a strong presence across platforms. The best way to reach the younger generation is to meet them where they are, create personal experiences, and be authentic.

It is my fervent hope that we will soon will be able to resume travelling for work and pleasure, and not necessarily in that order. While we will all have to adjust to a ‘new normal’, the NBA will continue to focus on engaging and inspiring fans around the world by using the transformative power of basketball.

Scott Levy is managing director of NBA Asia

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