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How the NBA’s evolving media strategy is driving international audience growth

SportsPro chief executive Nick Meacham picks out some of the top takeaways from his conversation with Ralph Rivera, the NBA’s managing director for Europe and the Middle East, to highlight how projects like the new NBA App are changing the way fans interact with the league.

17 January 2023 Nick Meacham

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At the recent SportsPro OTT Summit in Madrid I spoke with Ralph Rivera, the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) managing director for Europe and the Middle East.

He’s a man that comes with incredible experiences from stints at the likes of AOL, Eurosport, the BBC, and now one of the world’s biggest sports leagues. We discussed the NBA’s approach to growth internationally and particularly how its newly launched app will change the way fans connect with the league.

Here are my top takeaways…

1. The role of mobile changes by market

Rivera said mobile will only be key for live when it’s the “biggest screen available”. He explained that mobile’s role in western markets is first and foremost to drive engagement and consumption of the non-live product.

2. The NBA App is set to become the quintessential one-stop shop

The NBA’s new platform was unveiled in September with Microsoft as its key partner and includes a host of live and non-live content being made available to fans. The numbers are impressive, with the app driving a 50 per cent increase in watch hours, 150 per cent growth in video views and 41 per cent rise in subscriptions on the platform. The next phase will be to bring in merchandise, ticketing and NFT-style propositions like TopShot, giving fans a single destination for all their needs.

3. The new NBA ID could be a game changer

The notion of sharing your data for access is nothing new, but the NBA really seems to understand the need for a value exchange. It is therefore taking first-party data to the next level by providing fans with extra community or member-based incentives in return for signing up to its new NBA ID proposition. This ID also makes it so much easier for the league to connect the dots between platforms and products, ensuring it has a more reliable understanding of its audience and a complete view of its customer.

4. New wave of international stars is driving broadcaster interest

When a new overseas star such as Nikola Jokić, Giannis Antetokounmpo or Luka Dončić arrives on the scene, the broadcasters are often first to react to the opportunity. This fundamentally shifts the balance of power away from the broadcasters and towards the NBA during media rights negotiations. It’s clear that the growth of international players in the NBA, which has more than 120 players from 40 countries, is having a hugely beneficial impact in growing the league and its audience.

5. Localisation and personalisation are key to attention

There is a lot of talk in the industry about the need for personalisation but few will have a more important layer to their proposition than the NBA. The US vs Europe will be more focused on live vs non-live, but in markets with major European stars the NBA will naturally need to be weighting its content differently to ensure Slovenian fans get an extra dose of Luka Doncic, Serbia with Jokić and so on.

It sounds obvious in theory, but in practice high-quality personalisation at this scale is still in its infancy across the industry. The NBA is working with partners like Microsoft and Mediakind in order to deliver this kind of customised experience.

6. Team-based subscriptions could be on their way

With the recent addition of the Los Angeles Clippers’ Clipper Vision to the NBA App, we’ve seen a potentially watershed moment. Teams have historically sold their rights to local broadcasters but could now be shifting their rights into a centralised destination. This could be the catalyst for other teams to follow, allowing fans to start subscribing to streaming services exclusively covering their team, and not being forced to sign up to a league-wide service irrespective of their interest levels.

7. Vertical video is having an impact

The NBA has made a conscious decision to prioritise more vertical formats and this has contributed to a 150 per cent increase in video consumption around its non-live content. The league is also providing access to vertical views for certain live matches as one of the options on the platform.

The NBA App is streaming all LNB games featuring top Draft prospect Victor Wembanyama

8. The NBA is moving into aggregation

The NBA recently signed a deal with the French Pro League to show live games featuring expected future number one draft pick Victor Wembanyama. Rivera said that the NBA is in talks with more leagues for similar access so expect to see more competitions available on the NBA’s platforms in the years to come.

9. Revamped approach around live has given the NBA and its broadcasters more flexibility

The NBA has been working with partners like Mediakind to help it process the more than 100 unique streams of live content it may have on any given night. And taking a fundamental decision to shift delivery from satellite to IP has allowed both the league and its broadcaster partners the ability to pick and choose what matches they want to highlight or broadcast with greater ease.

Listen to the full interview and subscribe to the StreamTime Podcast here. And make sure you subscribe to receive updates for our events here

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