It is a sport known for its larger-than-life characters and glitzy marketing, all packaged in a Hollywood-worthy show that includes attractive cheerleaders and loveable mascots. But the National Basketball Association (NBA) is not relying solely on the game-day experience as it moves to carve its place in the Asian market.
Expect to see NBA-themed cafes, restaurants and retail stores sprouting in the region as the American basketball league expands to South-east Asia in its Asia push. The move, says NBA Commissioner David Stern, is designed to tap into an "extraordinarily important" market.
More NBA clinics will be held in countries such as Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia as the league adopts a year-round approach to courting the masses. Having successfully built a fan base in China thanks in part to former star Yao Ming, the NBA is now targeting Asean for its burgeoning 600 million population and growing affluence - with an estimated US$2 trillion (S$2.5 trillion) GDP.
"It's all beginning to perk up in the region and any sport or business has to realise that there's a world out there," Stern, 71, told The Straits Times. "I'm proud we realised it earlier rather than later." The NBA, which boasts an annual US$5 billion turnover, has been running events in the region since 1978. It employs nearly 200 staff across six Asian offices. But Stern, who steps down in February after 30 years at the helm, wants more.
He said: "We're going to increase our manpower by 10 per cent this year, particularly with a focus on South-east Asia. Our biggest challenge is finding the resources to take advantage of all the opportunities available."
India, he noted, has proven a tough nut to crack owing to cricket's cult-like following. This perhaps explains the shift to South-east Asia. Manila hosted South-east Asia's first NBA game between the Houston Rockets and Indiana Pacers to a near sell-out crowd of more than 12,000 on Thursday.