There is no doubt that Cricket is the number one sport in India. It will likely stay on top, no doubt, but it will possibly be challenged. One formidable challenger to Cricket’s crown is Basketball. With the National Basketball Association (NBA) specifically taking aim at India and its 1.3 billion population, the leading sport might see a fierce competitor in the coming years. In fact, a 2017 report by India Today uncovered NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum’s optimism that the world’s premier Basketball league will make Basketball popular in the Indian subcontinent.
Tatum’s optimism looks well-founded as the NBA already has a strong digital and social media presence in India. And with eSports beginning to make inroads in the country, too, the league’s digital media presence figures are likely to grow even more. India’s younger demographic is exposed to the NBA’s virtual equivalent, the NBA 2K series, which might boost the fame further.
The NBA, of course, has ventured into eSports, hoping to bring an even wider audience closer to Basketball. Its first official foray into competitive gaming was the inaugural NBA 2K League, which came to a close last August. The virtual league was somewhat of a success, averaging 10,000–15,000 concurrent viewers on Twitch. Said numbers obviously pale in comparison to the viewership of, say, the Overwatch League and the League Championship Series, but are nonetheless a good start for an organisation trying to make its way onto the eSports mainstream.
Evidently, the NBA 2K League’s first season was enough of a success. A second season is now brewing, with four new teams signed up, the first expansion draft of which ended last September. NBA 2K League Managing Director Brendan Donohue tells Venture Beat that his vision is to make the league global, with teams from all around the world competing in organised and lucrative tournaments.
“The other thing we’re encouraged by is the growth around our international audience. No different from the NBA, we have a global sport,” Donohue notes. “In fact, I was just in Asia 10 days ago, and the amount of interest in the league there — we expect to grow beyond just NBA teams. We expect to have franchises all over the globe. We see having a Shanghai or London team playing Knicks Gaming. That’s our vision.”
As Donohue plots NBA 2K League’s global assault, he can no doubt bank on the NBA’s continued support. The world’s preeminent basketball league, after all, is known for pushing the envelope when it comes to forwarding its brand. It is, for example, one of the first professional leagues to fully embrace the power and vast scope of social and digital media, engaging its followers and giving them free access to content like videos and all-access passes.
The league, unsurprisingly, even opened its doors to legalised NBA Betting. This decision makes perfect sense given the NBA’s unrivalled gravitas, its unbelievably long season, and its diverse cast of characters (players) and compelling storylines. The league will even provide real-time, official data to generate in-game betting odds. This underscores the NBA’s commitment to endeavours that will bring the league — and basketball — to a wider audience worldwide.
The NBA 2K League is one of them, and it might just make a beeline to India, just like what the sport of Basketball is doing now.