Mark Tatum interview: NBA Deputy Commissioner on why 2019 is the right time to host Global Games in India

Come October 2019, the NBA will take its next big step — it’s probably appropriate to call it a leap — into the Indian market when the Indiana Pacers and the Sacramento Kings play two pre-season games at Mumbai’s NSCI Dome.

Teams from NBA have been travelling to play pre-season games abroad since the Washington Bullets (presently Washington Wizards) made a trip to Israel to play against the Macabbi Tel Aviv back in 1978. But the move to send two teams to India will mark the first time that any NBA team will come to India.

NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum with NBA India Managing Director Yannick Colaco in Mumbai on Thursday. Image courtesy: NBA

NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum with NBA India Managing Director Yannick Colaco in Mumbai on Thursday. Image courtesy: NBA

Over the years, the NBA has taken solid strides in India, be it with their move to open an office in Mumbai back in 2011, starting the Reliance Foundation Junior NBA Program in 2013, starting the NBA Academy India in 2017 in Greater Noida or bringing players like Kevin Durant to India in 2017. But the Global Games will be the first authentic live NBA experience that the league will provide the Indian fans.

Firstpost had reported that the Global Games will be held in India in 2019 back in June this year quoting NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum.

Tatum was in Mumbai on Thursday for the announcement, where the names of the teams were revealed.

In an exclusive interview with Firstpost on Thursday, Tatum discussed why 2019 will be the right time to host Global Games in India, the possibility of the NBA India Games becoming a regular feature, whether India could see a regular season game soon and more. Excerpts:

With the first Global Games to be held in India next October, is the league looking at making the NBA India Games an annual feature?

We are excited to be bringing these historic games to India next year. In the future, we would love to host more Games in India. But before we get there, we have these Games. It’s going to be an important development in the growth of the NBA here. It’ll give fans the opportunity for the first time to see real NBA action live in Mumbai.

China and India are big markets for the NBA. While China has already hosted 26 pre-season Games since 2004, the NBA India Games in 2019 will be the first Games in India. Was the possibility of hosting the Games before this discussed by the league? And what have been the hindrances for getting the Games to India before?

We have been in India since seven years when we opened up our office here. In that time we have undertaken several different activities, which have exposed the Indian fans to the NBA. Whether it is through our programming and the 350 games we have on television or through our Junior NBA program, which reached 10 million kids over the last five years. Last year we broadcasted 80 games in Hindi as well. So the NBA India Games is the next step in the evolution of our investments here in India.

Since the time we started investing in India, we have been thinking of what is the right time to bring live games to India. For us, we had to lay the foundation first, build the audience and fan base first. We have several marketing partners as well. When we enter into a market like India, we always think about that’s the right time to bring a live game experience to it. This is the right time to do it.

What’s the right time to have a regular season game in India like the one London hosts?

We will evaluate that. China hasn’t had a regular season game yet. The challenge of having regular season games in Asia is the time difference. We have such a priority and focus on player health and wellness that fitting in those regular season games is difficult. The other reason the pre-season games work so well for us is that it gives our players more time to spend in the market. They are going to be here, they’re going to play two games, they’ll land a couple of days before-hand, they’ll be doing community events, fan event. So it’s during the pre-season that players can engage with the local community, which we found is great in places like China. And we know it’ll be well received here in India as well.

In India, the LA Lakers are big. The Boston Celtics are big. Even the Golden State Warriors are big. Could you tell us why the Indiana Pacers and Sacramento Kings were chosen?  

We talked to all of our teams about where they are interested in playing. We have a schedule of games throughout the world where we try and match the right teams. Indiana is a great young team, they’re currently third in the NBA Eastern Conference. They have great young talent with guys like Victor Oladipo. Then there’s Sacramento Kings, who have a Mumbai-born owner in Vivek Ranadive. The games will give him the opportunity to bring his team to the place where he grew up. It’s just a special and unique opportunity.

Are there concerns that since these two teams don’t have big fan following in India, that the NBA India Games will not be as well received by fans as they should be?

We have no concerns at all. This will be the first opportunity that fans will get to see two NBA games live. In their market. And we know from the 120 million people who watched NBA games this past season, through the three million Facebook fans, and the 1.4 billion impressions that we have on social media from India that the fan base is there. Of course they know the big stars, but this is a good opportunity for them to also get to know other players in the NBA and the future stars of the NBA as well.

The NBA India Games are 10 months away. What are the plans the league has in place to build up momentum for the event?

We have a whole plan to tell the story of who these teams are. We have some features scheduled about players of both the Kings and Pacers as well as content on both the teams. We’ll have a series of activities from our marketing partners, our merchandising partners and our media partners. This is so that people get to know both the teams and the players.

Can you tell us a little bit about the logistics of organising games of this scale in India…

It takes a global effort. We have a world-class team in India as well as back in USA. We have experience doing these games for over the last 30-plus years. And we have hosted close to 200 games around the world. This is our first time doing it in India, but it’s not our first time doing it. Having a great local team working with our global team helps to anticipate everything that will need to be done to pull this off.

What are your plans on re-creating the authentic NBA experience that you get at a venue in USA at the NSCI in Mumbai?

Part of the beauty of this is that we will bring the NBA experience to India so that fans can experience this for themselves. We will bring the entertainment…it’ll feel like it’s a real NBA game. So the whole experience we produce for the fans will be the same as it would were the games to be played in Indiana or Sacramento. I just visited the NSCI facility, which is a beautiful facility that has hosted world-class events before like the Pro Kabaddi League. I have seen the PKL on TV and seen how the arena gets dressed up and transforms. I know the fans there will have a terrific and authentic NBA experience.

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Updated Date: Dec 21, 2018 22:58:20 IST

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