Alicia Jessop, Contributor
Nearly six months after the NBA lockout ended, NBA fans across the world and the league’s executives have much to celebrate. Tonight the Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat will face off for Game 2 of the 2012 NBA Finals. Although the 2012 NBA season was shortened as a result of the lockout, fans have not turned their back on the league. In fact, fans in 215 countries from Iceland to Madagascar and Afghanistan to Sri Lanka, will watch as The Finals are streamed in 47 different languages. Additionally, the NBA expects that 278 million fans will follow The Finals through social media networks.
The large surge in international viewership of The Finals is driven in part by the vast number of networks and online outlets that are televising the event. This year, 90 international television, radio and online outlets will air The Finals. Notably, this season, fourteen international networks are airing The Finals for the first time. These networks are located in: Cameroon, Georgia, Ghana, Greece, Mexico, Mongolia, New Zealand, Russia, South Africa and Turkey. The growth of international interest in the NBA is further demonstrated by the amount of international media that will converge upon Oklahoma City and Miami to cover The Finals. 1,800 media members total have been credentialed to cover The Finals. 12.6 percent of all media covering The Finals are international media members, as 227 media members representing 34 countries other than the United States are credentialed to cover The Finals.
Social media networks have also increased the NBA’s worldwide fan base. According to the NBA, the league has built one of the largest social communities in the world, with more than 278 million likes and followers. The official NBA, team and player pages combined across Twitter and Facebook have accumulated more than 226 million likes and followers. In China, the NBA is the number-one sports league across social media with 52 million fans on the league’s official accounts. The NBA has enjoyed over 883 million videos viewed on YouTube since 2005. Much of the NBA’s social media success is driven by international fans, as nearly 50 percent of the league’s followers on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are international.
The surge of international interest that the NBA has seen in recent years is arguably driven by a number of factors. First, in the off-season, coaches, players and team personnel travel overseas to promote basketball and the NBA through various goodwill clinics and events. The growth of interest in the sport has also caused the NBA to open offices in 15 international markets. Additonally, team rosters are largely made up of international talent. Approximately 20 percent of the league’s players are international, as 79 international players are on team’s rosters. Four of the league’s international players play for teams competing in this year’s Finals: Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka (Congo) and Thabo Sefolosha (Switzerland), and Miami’s Ronny Turiaf (France) and Joel Anthony (Canada).
When asked specifically what is driving international interest in the NBA, Heidi Ueberroth, NBA President, International provided the following insight:
“It’s all about the game. The Playoffs were incredible, and The Finals match-up features All-Star players that are known worldwide. Basketball’s popularity is at an all-time high. Fans want to see the very best compete and what’s unique in our sport is that the best players in the world play in a single league. Basketball is the number-two sport globally with an estimated 500 million people playing the game. We work with FIBA, the governing body of basketball, and local federations on developing the game at the grassroots level. We believe our joint efforts to encourage participation helps bring fans to the game.”