Adam Silver is 'comfortable' with the concept of overseas expansion. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
By Rob Mahoney
For years, NBA commissioner David Stern has gazed across the seas -- to the sports-crazy legions in Europe, and likewise across the Pacific to the NBA enthusiasts throughout Asia. These other continents are filled with consumers and an even more daunting number of potential consumers, thus offering a tremendous growth opportunity for a league with incredible international marketability.
The league can access those populations of basketball fans by simply ratcheting up the accessibility of its product on those shores. International availability for NBA League Pass is one thing, but the league has also gradually increased its presence in terms of cable affiliates, international sponsorships and offseason/preseason NBA ventures. It's the kind of initiative that could bear considerable payoff for the league economy as a whole, and one that deputy commissioner Adam Silver intends to fully explore when he takes up the reins from Stern next year. Silver spoke to Larry Fine of Reuters:
"Probably most important for the long term growth for the NBA, participation levels continue to increase among the Chinese youth, both boys and girls. Right now it's our second largest market. But who knows in a country of 1.3 billion what the opportunities will ultimately be?"
Silver, 50, said Stern was planning a trip to India next month. "Another country of over a billion people with a young population that loves basketball."
The most concrete link that the NBA could make would be an outright expansion enterprise. There are all kinds of logistical issues that make such a venture difficult, but Silver doesn't seem at all daunted by the prospect of eventually bringing an NBA team outside of North America:
"When we do expand, we'd need to expand probably with multiple teams, so that you wouldn't have an orphan team in Europe, but that you'd potentially have a division so those teams could play each other more often and NBA teams presumably traveling in Europe could have more teams to play when they're over there," said Silver.
"It's still a concept, but I'm comfortable with it."
This would all make for a pretty natural extension of the Stern doctrine, and it's the kind of enterprise that would help a monopoly business like the NBA to create even greater potential for profit. This possible windfall provides a natural and compelling motivation for anyone in Silver's position, though his confidence in the prospect -- it's not "if" the NBA expands to Europe, but "when" -- shouldn't obscure the difficulties of completing a move. Given the debate that could surround a team potentially trading players to foreign countries that are an ocean away from their home bases, lives and families -- no to mention the other logistical issues involved -- it's clear we're still years away from this becoming a realistic possibility.