Stern’s the way

Posted on August 9, 2013


For a 70-year-old, David Stern has a lot of energy. I spoke to him when he visited India during the IPL. His mandate was clear: to ensure he widens the presence of NBA in India. Crisp and articulate with his answers and frank. Stern will retire as NBA commissioner on February 1, 2014, 30 years after he assumed the post. He has been the brains behind developing the league and making it a household name as it is now, read on……

David Stern

The 1992 Olympics was a perfect launch pad for the NBA to go global….

We didn’t decide as much as we responded to the forces of globalisation. In another words we were responding to an opportunity where people were knocking on our doors saying ‘we like television’ because sports was being seen more as a TV property. And so suddenly the opportunity was available to us and actually some of the players in the league now grew up watching Larry Bird and Magic Johnson and developed skills watching them play. It is very dynamic and happens in spontaneous ways. We take advantage of the trends that we see and one of the trends was clearly globalisation.

When did the idea of going global actually strike the NBA….

I made the first TV deal with Italy in 80s. They just came in. I didn’t understand there was a market for the NBA. I went to Italy first in 1984 and before that Japan. In 1987, we invited the Soviet national team and Italian champions. So we always had our eye and in 1985, I said to the head of the Chinese basketball association, ‘I hope someday we can entertain you ‘and the next thing we get a telex saying ‘we will be arriving soon’. I always felt basketball was going to be very much global in its reach. I never quite understood how big it will ultimately be. We were very open to the India.

Challenges faced going global with competition from other sports…..

We don’t consider other sports to be a competition for us. Our market share is so low that as long as we do a good job of explaining our sport and getting it to kids it is not a problem. The biggest problem is learning how to manage in a different way because we are an American league but we want to be a global sport. We need to adjust our relationships with FIBA, with BFIs of the world. It’s half diplomacy, half non-NGO type of development. It is very complex but also great fun. That is also the key for establishing new markets.

On the IPL….

It is a very exciting product which has totally reformulated the fans view of cricket. I think of US people 10-15 years ago, cricket is cricket and has to be Test matches in a certain way. But the IPL is actually founded on something my teams have been working on for 30 years which is – it is not just about the game it is about the entertainment around the game. It is about the facility, the video, the music, the cheerleaders… a lot of things. So even if the home team loses, you feel you have a good experience. The only thing I worry about all leagues, including IPL and NBA, is it can’t be an economic model that doesn’t work. It has to be an economic model that works for the benefit of the owners, players and the fans. If it is all about who spends the most money, that’s not a satisfying economic model. And I think the IPL will work that out, they are widely successful and I think cricket around the world is looking over its shoulders for the IPL model and that’s kinda fun. We think that’s good. From our perspective the more successful the league and more money they generate then all the leagues behind it will really improve.

Media’s role…

You need to be on a media platform. You need to have the support such partners. You also need to develop the ability to talk to the media separately from the telecast of the game. A communication strategy to make it easy for people to follow your game and you can do that now through journalists, electronic media, and social media. You need to do it all. And that’s something that drives us and pulls us.

Posted in: Sports