NBA courts UK as Celtics and 76ers look to bounce back

From BBC - January 10, 2018

Two of the most famous names in NBA basketball bounce into London's 02 on Thursday night looking to move a step closer not only to silverware, but also to boost their global commercial appeal.

Boston Celtics are among the US's greatest sports franchises, and decades ago were the epitome of basketball.

In the late 1950s and 1960s they clinched an unparalleled run of eight straight championships as they dominated the NBA as few clubs have done in any sport.

The Philadelphia 76ers have struggled in recent decades but were at one time another powerhouse, and are currently seeing the fruition of a four year sports and business rebuilding programme.

These historic rivals meet in the eighth regular-season NBA game to be held in London, at a time when the league is capturing new young fans across North America, and is seeking to capitalise on its sporting icons overseas.

The 'business of winning'

Both clubs have young, revamped teams this season, and energetic off-court activity has also seen them maximise ticket revenues, increase their social media presence, and sign a number of high-profile sponsorship deals.

However, the priority is recapturing former sporting glories - the last of the Celtics' 17 title wins was in 2008 and the 76ers' third league success was in 1983 - with commercial growth driving construction of potentially-successful sides.

"For us it is all starts with winning championships, all the other stuff then follows," Boston Celtics president Rich Gotham tells me.

"We do not run the business for the sake of making profit, but to invest in our product, for our team... the best players, with the most competitive resources and best coaches around then."

And Scott O'Neil, chief executive of Harris Blitzer Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Philadelphia 76ers and also Crystal Palace football club, concurs.

"We are here to win championships, nothing is more important," he says. "Winning and business are linked. Our aim is to have a business that is strong enough to drive the growth of a team that can compete at the top level on the basketball court."

The NBA chooses which fixtures to stage overseas, and this year is bringing some of the most exciting young players to the UK, such as Celtics' Kyrie Irving and 76ers' Joel Embiid.

'International reach'

Mr Gotham says the London game allows the Celtics - who currently sit top of the NBA Eastern Conference - to remind fans not only in the UK, but also mainland Europe, of their sporting prowess and business presence.

"We consider ourselves to be a global brand," he says. "We are doing our part as an NBA member [by playing in London], but more selfishly we know we have a lot of fans here in Europe.

"We think there are still more opportunities out there for the Celtics and the NBA across Europe... we are trying to understand how to increase the national and international reach."

He adds: "Of the US sports, the NBA far and away brings in more money from international business; like media rights, licensing, ticket sales to our events."

He says there is potential for revenue growth not just in Europe, but also in Asia - with 400 million people watching NBA games on TV in China alone.

'Young demographic'

'Increase in interest'

'Patient process'


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