The NBA’s Marketing Strategy Made It The First Global Sports League

It is a hot morning in December 1995 in a town in the interior of the province of Buenos Aires, Argentina. A score of teenagers sweat in the basketball club while practicing the plate entry, the “chest” pass, the three-point shot. The technical level is low but the enthusiasm is high. One group occupies one ring, another occupies the opposite. The action comes to a halt at the whistle of Guillermo, a player from the veterans team who serves as coach here.

“Guys, it’s going to hurt you, I already told you … those with a cap take it off and leave it on the stand, please, they are going to suffocate,” he shouts, so that they can hear him from all the spaces of that covered court, with a high ceiling and few windows.

“Uhhhhh” is heard, while 18 of the 20 present (only two were bareheaded) reluctantly face the first row of bleachers as orange as they are empty.

And there are, one on each seat, the 18 caps. There are several of the Chicago Bulls, at that time the powerful team of Michael Jordan, but there are also the Orlando Magic of Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway; those of Charlotte Hornets (a popular team more for the striking of its logo, with violet and blue colors and a very large wasp, than for its level of play) and even one of San Antonio Spurs, a set without any link with Argentina in those years .

There are several who, even so, are not completely stripped of the NBA world. You can see a pair with a Bulls jersey, another with a muscular old Los Angeles Lakers and one, taller than the rest, with the O’Neal name on the back of his Magic T-shirt.

It is Argentina, a mainly soccer country, and it is the year 1995. NBA products have a good presence not only in basketball outposts such as this town club. They are already seen regularly on the streets, when it is still very difficult to find someone with the shirt of a foreign football club.

Someone wealthy has the novelty of the shirt of a football team in Europe. Another fanatic, the one Maradona wore in Napoli. Not much more than that.

It looks awesome.

But it is the result of an enormous marketing and dissemination task that the largest basketball league in the world has been carrying out around the planet for years.

Because what happens in Argentina also happens, for example, in many other Latin American countries.

All the boys who perspire on that court in the Buenos Aires town are fans of a TV program called ‘The Magic of the NBA’. In other countries it exists under different names, such as ‘NBA in action’ or ‘The best of the NBA’.

In the case of Argentina, those Sundays at midnight, following the most watched sports program on the grid, ‘Fútbol de Primera’.

Nothing is a coincidence when it comes to the NBA and its expansion strategy.

In the mid-1990s, politics focused on sending a summary of what happened in the week via air TV, free of charge. And also to facilitate the entry of merchandising -especially caps and t-shirts- to territories around the world.

Another leg of the question had to do with video games. The successful ‘NBA Jam’, for both arcade and home consoles, was just one of the electronic games that helped cement the league’s popularity around the world.

Another branch was still incipient, which over time would become preponderant: the inclusion of the best players from each country in the NBA itself. There were still years for the Manu Ginobili, but the Arvydas Sabonis and the Toni Kukoc were already there.

Much of these initiatives came from the mind of Commissioner David Stern. They were so successful that even Stern himself became famous outside the United States.

Decades later, digital game transmission platforms and social networks would arrive, another vein where the most important basketball league in the world was a pioneer.

But we are in 1995 and the teenagers are still training in the hot indoor court of Argentina. At this point, the part they enjoy the most has started: playing games. The referee, of course, is Guillermo.

None will make it to the NBA. But everyone dreams of doing it, perhaps more than being a professional soccer player.

And that is also a merit of the ‘NBA marketing’.