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The Whole World Is Watching With renowned stars like Yao Ming who transcend borders, the NBA and the other U.S. major leagues are banking on big help from abroad to generate growth

June 14, 2004
June 14, 2004

Table of Contents
June 14, 2004

Ronald Reagan 1911-2004

The Whole World Is Watching With renowned stars like Yao Ming who transcend borders, the NBA and the other U.S. major leagues are banking on big help from abroad to generate growth

The sun never sets on the nba's empire. The dominant piece of wall
art in the main lobby of the league's New York City headquarters
doesn't depict Shaq dunking, Jordan levitating or Iverson
dribbling--it's a monstrous map of the world, festooned with LED
digital clocks for various time zones. By the time commissioner
David Stern arrives at his sprawling corner office each morning,
his gu-yuans in Beijing are shutting it down for the day, his
Beschaftigte in Cologne are lunching with clients, his empleados
in Mexico City are just waking up. He usually begins his workday
by checking overnight e-mail from the NBA's 12 satellite offices
worldwide.

This is an article from the June 14, 2004 issue Original Layout

This year marks Stern's 20th season as commissioner, and the arc
of his reign is not unlike that of a medieval emperor. First he
solidified his base of power, turning a moribund league into a
slickly packaged, telegenic property with charismatic stars and a
place on the cultural vanguard. Then he set his sights on
expanding his domain, colonizing markets from Buenos Aires to
Bangalore. Along the way he staved off periodic rebellions (from
the players' association), shepherded his subjects through a
gilded age (franchise values and player salaries have, on
average, increased more than tenfold) and instituted progressive
policy (launching the WNBA). But when he finally abdicates the
throne, Stern's legacy will be that of the visionary who
capitalized on the international marketplace.

The 61-year-old Stern and his lieutenants are happy to traffic in
numbers: The league will broadcast this week's Finals to 205
countries in 42 languages; fans outside the U.S. account for more
than half the hits on nba.com; more than 20% of the $3 billion in
merchandise sales comes from overseas, and one day, NBA sources
predict, that figure will eclipse 50%. But the more compelling
evidence of the league's global reach is anecdotal. It's the
snowbound Icelandic teenager who, upon being rescued after 24
hours, asked, "Where am I? Is there school today? Did the Magic
beat the 76ers?" It's the tiny knickknack shop in Stockholm where
60 kronor ($9 U.S.) will get you a Nick Van Exel--Nick Van
Exel!--bobblehead doll. It's the teenager in Beijing who, eager
to practice his English, approaches a Westerner on a shopping
esplanade and discovers that the visitor hails from Indiana.
Suddenly the teen's eyes widen to the size of quarters.
"Indiana!" he says. "I like Reggie Miller!"

Like so many bounce passes, the NBA beams its games off
satellites to television sets and computer monitors the world
over. And it's not alone. Globalization--the buzzword that
describes the ever-increasing exchange of goods, services and
information across borders--has become the way of the world for
American sports leagues. "The most globalized business in the
world, and the most lucrative, is the drug trade," says prominent
political historian Walter LaFeber, author of Michael Jordan and
the New Global Capitalism. "But for legitimate businesses, sports
is probably Number 1."

Major League Baseball departed from 128 years of tradition by
opening the 2004 season not in a big league ballpark but in
Tokyo--in no small part because a distributor there paid $275
million last fall for major league broadcast rights in Japan
through '10. The majority of households that received Stanley Cup
telecasts this spring were outside of North America, and the
NHL's international television revenue has tripled since 1998.
The NFL has had an auxiliary league in Europe for 12 seasons,
while the Arena Football League has designs on adding a European
division, the winner of which would compete in the AFL playoffs.
Even NASCAR, the quintessential good ol' boy of American sport,
broadcasts to 122 countries and has ambitions of crossing
borders, despite domestic markets still to conquer and the high
cost of transporting cars overseas.

Then there is soccer, the world's most global sport. More
countries, we're reminded repeatedly, claim membership in
Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) than in
the United Nations. The English Premier League is generally
regarded as the ultimate sports association, and its iconic club,
Manchester United, has planted its Red Cafe theme restaurants in
outposts from Singapore to Chengdu. "Anyone who sticks his head
in the sand and says, 'Life is good, I like doing business in my
country, and I'm not going to change,' is setting himself up for
a hard fall," says Dean Bonham, a Denver-based sports industry
analyst. "The world is the market."

And it is the labor market as well (chart, page 83). Five of the
top six players on the San Antonio Spurs claim provenance outside
the U.S. There are 27 Samoans in the NFL. A staggering 47.6% of
players signed to minor league baseball contracts are born
outside the States. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, the
composition of the NHL has become heavily weighted with Russians
and Eastern Europeans, including five of the top 10 goal scorers
in '03-04. A Brazilian and a German are on NASCAR's roster of
drivers. Even the Professional Bowlers Association tour, which
wends its way through Middle America, features a Venezuelan and a
highly successful Finn. "Sports made huge gains when they went
from live viewing to being broadcast on television, and we're
seeing that again as they move from national to international
platforms," says Cornell economist Robert Frank, co-author of The
Winner-Take-All Society. "With television rights starting to
plateau in the U.S., international business is the way to
generate growth. And it could be worth billions of dollars."

Adds Paul Swangard, managing director of Oregon's Warsaw Sports
Marketing Center, "They say you can go anywhere in the world and
say, 'Coca-Cola,' and everyone knows what you're talking about.
But say 'L.A. Lakers' or 'Manchester United' or 'New York
Yankees,' and you sure won't get many blank stares. Plus, what's
one of the major ways Coke and MasterCard and the truly global
consumer products advertise their brand? Through sports
sponsorships."

Annals of Globalization, Note 1

Four of the main sponsors of the Australian Open tennis
tournament are a South Korean car manufacturer (Kia), a Dutch
beer (Heineken), a Swiss watch company (Rado) and American
Express. In an effort to brand itself as the Pan-Asian Grand Slam
event, organizers fly in dozens of ball boys and ball girls from
South Korea and Singapore.

Leaning back in his chair, stern can laugh at how far his league
has all come. He recalls that early in his tenure he sold replay
rights to an Italian distributor for $5,000 per game. "And
suddenly," he says, "we were in the international television
business." Sometimes weeks after the games were played, the
league shipped tapes to Milan, where couriers hopped on bicycles
and delivered them to networks. Today roughly 20% of the NBA's
$900 million in annual television revenue is derived from foreign
rights. "Looking back," Stern says wistfully, "I should have told
[buyers] we were the world's largest provider of reality
programming."

When he started integrating his business into the global economy,
the usually hard-charging Stern opted for a more probing and
methodical half-court attack. In 1979, when Larry O'Brien was
commissioner and Stern was his general counselor, NBA teams began
venturing overseas during the summer for what Stern calls
"basketball outreaches." The initial visits were to major
European markets, but over time the locales grew more far-flung
(Mexico City; Tokyo; Zaragoza, Spain) and the games went from
halfhearted exhibitions and clinics against host national teams
to full-fledged NBA preseason and regular-season dates. "There
was a certain knowledge that by going there, [the NBA] wouldn't
be seen as some distant product," Stern says. "We always likened
it to the Beatles or Springsteen. You sold lots of records; that
was the TV. But then you went on tour occasionally and made the
connection with the fans."

Aided by a fortuitous, synergistic convergence--the arrival of an
unparalleled icon in Michael Jordan; the invitation to bring the
Dream Team to the 1992 Barcelona Olympics; the fall of communism,
which opened markets; the advent of the Internet--Stern's global
ambitions set in motion a cycle that has become
self-perpetuating. Exposed as a kid in Germany to telecasts of
Larry Bird's games, Dirk Nowitzki worked on his outside shooting.
Exposed to Jordan while growing up in France, Tony Parker
practiced his fearless drives to the basket. Exposed to Hakeem
Olajuwon, Yao Ming burnished his low-post moves in Shanghai.
Having made it big, Nowitzki, Parker and Yao are now some of the
NBA's leading missionaries, spreading the gospel of basketball
back home. "How many kids today," says Stern, "are in France
wanting to be the next Tony Parker?"

And now, like any acquisitive emperor, Stern thirsts for new
worlds to conquer. He is turning his attention to the Far East.

Annals of Globalization, Note 2

Weary of the media swarm that trailed him during All-Star
weekend, Yao Ming got off a gem. Asked by a Chinese journalist to
name his favorite American music, Yao responded, "I like the
national anthem. I listen to it at least 82 times a year."

This is the year of the monkey in china, but peer at the skyline
of any major city there and you'd be forgiven for thinking it's
the Year of the Mechanical Crane. The global economy might be
slumping, but in the world's most populated country annual growth
is a staggering 10%--a pace that would make China's economy
second to only the U.S.'s by 2010. As the grip of communism
loosens and as trade barriers fall, progress is visible
everywhere. Consider that in Beijing alone, there are nearly one
million construction workers. The Chinese have a
word--xiahai--for the rising economic tide.

And when a country of 1.3 billion people is riding the xiahai,
you don't need an abacus to recognize its potential as a market.
Like prospectors bound for Sutter's Mill in the 1840s,
innumerable Western companies have been scrambling to claim their
fortunes in this largely unmined market. "China is the next
frontier for globalization," says Swangard. "The potential of
that consumer is just wondrous. The thinking is that if you can
win the hearts and minds of this generation, the sky is the
limit."

It's not as easy as it sounds, but sports are well-positioned to
succeed. The 2008 Beijing Olympics, even four years out, are
breathlessly anticipated, and they have prompted more than $30
billion in facility construction and renovation. "It's like a big
party to say to the world, Here we are," says Lincoln Venancio, a
Beijing-based sports promoter and former Brazilian tennis pro.
"The mood here is, Let it be 2008 already!"

A country with a modest legacy in competitive athletics, China is
falling in love with big-time sports for the first time. Reggie
Jackson once quipped, "When we lose and I strike out, a billion
people in China don't care." That sort of indifference can no
longer be assumed. "It's not like the market is saturated and so
we need to convert tennis fans to golf, or NFL fans to soccer,"
says Venancio. "We're talking pure growth."

Waiguoren (outsider) sports institutions are tripping over
themselves to gain a foothold. In hopes of teaching kids the
rules of football--what the Chinese call oliveball--the NFL is
funding flag football programs in schools and has plans to play
preseason games in Beijing and Shanghai as early as 2006. When
soccer powerhouse Real Madrid signed David Beckham last year,
club officials stated that the wildly popular midfielder would do
wonders for helping Real "crack China." (Sure enough, last
summer, shortly after Beckham's signing, the club toured Asia for
the first time, playing to sold-out crowds.) Formula One is
holding a race in Shanghai later this summer and is considering a
Chinese circuit. Baseball, too, has a presence, with a fledgling
four-team league (page 81). "The thing about China is the
numbers," says Tom McCarthy, a former scout in Asia for the
Boston Celtics and now vice chairman of China's Professional
Baseball Commission. "If two percent--just two percent--of the
kids in China take up baseball, you're talking about seven
million players."

It is the NBA, however, that has already established itself;
basketball has supplanted soccer as the most popular sport among
kids in China. And that's largely because the NBA has something
no other U.S. league does: a Chinese superstar. When 7'6" Yao
Ming played his first professional game for the Houston Rockets
in October 2002, the Chinese telecast was watched by an estimated
300 million people--more viewers than there are U.S. citizens. In
China he is ubiquitous, his wry smile plastered on billboards in
even the most remote farming villages. And the NBA, nothing if
not opportunistic, is all too happy to prime the pump, beaming
more and more games to its television partner, CCTV, the
state-owned national network.

"I remember listening to Magic Johnson games on Voice of America
radio," says basketball writer and broadcaster Xu (Big Xu)
Jicheng, a former national team player. "Now games are on
television all the time." In October, Yao and the Rockets will
play exhibition games against the Sacramento Kings in Shanghai
and Beijing, games bereft of much meaning to most Americans but
seminal events to the Chinese. Other leagues look on the NBA's
base with envy. "At some point maybe we'll have a quarterback
from China named Yao Fling," NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue told
reporters, only half-jokingly, at the Super Bowl in February.

Even before Yao's apotheosis, the sport was deeply entrenched in
the Middle Kingdom. Basketball arrived in China in 1893, just two
years after its debut in the U.S. During the Cultural Revolution,
as Mao's minions were smashing Beethoven records and burning
Flaubert novels, purging the country of "insolent Western
influence," shooting hoops remained an acceptable leisure
pursuit. Tourists passing through the portals of the Forbidden
City in Beijing--a former imperial palace, one of the most sacred
and iconic sites in China--are greeted by an incongruous sight:
two weather-beaten basketball courts smack in a centuries-old
courtyard. Asked about the origins of the court, Big Xu shrugs
and says, "The guards [stationed at the site] have always liked
basketball very much. Some of them are pretty good."

The NBA is sufficiently established that interest even goes
beyond nationalist loyalties. Frank Sha, a Beijing sports
marketer whose father once coached Yao's mother on the national
team, says that the two most popular NBA players in China are
Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant. "I think Chinese like the little
guys, the guards, more than big men," Sha says. On the courts in
Dong Dan (nicknamed Nike Park because it's festooned with
swooshes), an outdoor athletic complex in Beijing not far from
Tiananmen Square, there can be an hourlong wait for a spot in a
pickup game. The caliber of play is all over the map, but snazzy
dribbling and outside shooting are the orders of the day.

The usual earmarks of the NBA culture are in evidence--the retro
jerseys, the knee-high socks, the knuckle-knocks. Most players
are like Jay Liu, 23, a hoops junkie who says he owns 40 pairs of
Nikes, can rattle off the names of the Atlanta Hawks' reserves
and uses Allen_Iverson99 as his screen name. "To me, basketball
is like a way to express yourself," says Liu, who dreams of
running an NBA team one day. He stops mid-sentence as his
cellphone rings with the chorus from OutKast's Hey Ya--a
Sino-the-times, as it were. After dismissing his caller, he adds,
"Kids like the basketball lifestyle."

Kids enamored not only of basketball but also of hoops gestalt
have been a boon for Western shoe companies. Even in a country
awash in knockoffs, Nike has capitalized on its global marketing
machine and a stable of world-famous athlete-endorsers to
overtake Li-Ning, a moderately priced eponymous brand founded by
the Chinese Olympic gold medal gymnast. Nike will do roughly $300
million in sales in China for fiscal 2004--no small feat in a
country where the median annual income is less than $1,000--and
footwear market analysts predict Nike's sales in China could
eclipse $1 billion by '10. Adidas is drafting closely behind.
While Reebok was late to the party, the company's success in
poaching Yao Ming from Nike augurs well for the future. "There
will be a vicious sneaker war here one day," says Tor Peterson, a
partner in Zou Marketing, a Shanghai-based firm. "But right now,
there's still enough market for everyone."

Annals of Globalization, Note 3

The Dallas Cowboys have 1,500 season-ticket holders who commute
500 miles from Monterrey, Mexico.

Last month a who's who of chinese basketball convened in a
second-floor ballroom of a Beijing hotel. To the strains of The
Godfather theme, cheerleaders from China Basketball Association
(CBA) teams showed guests to their seats. The occasion was a
press-conference-cum-pep-rally to announce "a new day for the
CBA." A polished Power Point presentation outlined plans for
conference realignment, an expanded schedule of games,
reconstituted logos and new tiers of sponsors. "We will improve,"
the commissioner earnestly told reporters. "We must improve."

Popular as basketball has become in China, the surge has not
necessarily benefited the CBA, a 12-team pro league that has
burned through three title sponsors in the past three seasons.
Some observers blame the government's poor management of the
teams, as well as the puny television contract with state-owned
networks. But the effects of the NBA's growing presence, positive
and negative, are inescapable. Stern evangelizes that the NBA's
worldwide sprawl is a blessing to leagues in other nations--his
rising tide lifts their boats--but it doesn't always play out
that way. It's not only that the U.S. has become the destination
of top Chinese league players (Yao was a Shanghai Shark before he
was a Houston Rocket), but also the increase in NBA telecasts and
webcasts siphons fans from the CBA. Why pay 40 yuan ($5 U.S.) to
watch the Beijing Ducks play the Guangdong Southern Tigers when
you can stay home and watch decidedly superior NBA games for free
on television or broadband? Chen Quanli, head of CCTV's sports
division, claims that ratings for NBA games outdraw the CBA's 3
to 1.

"The NBA turned a generation of kids on to basketball," says
Terry Rhoads, Peterson's partner in Zou (Mandarin for go)
Marketing, the firm retained by the CBA to improve the value of
the brand. "But the NBA has also got the CBA on the edge of its
seat saying, We'd better innovate or we'll die. The NBA is coming
and it's coming strong. And the CBA needs to change the way it's
doing business or else it will become irrelevant to the fans in
China. This fear of losing relevancy drives the league."

When globalization came into vogue in the mid-1990s, it was
overwhelmingly hailed in the U.S. as a force for good, a truly
transforming phenomenon. Free political systems, unfettered trade
and emerging technology would conspire to form a "global
village"--what was not to like? The idyll was shattered in the
late '90s, at about the same time protesters were disrupting
World Trade Organization summits and smashing the windows of an
"imperialist" McDonald's franchise in France. It became clear
that, for all its virtues, globalization was not without its
drawbacks: widening chasms between rich and poor societies,
plummeting environmental standards and increasing dependence on
outsourcing. Peril was riding tandem with so much promise. Which
is to say, globalization is like sports: For all the winners,
there are, necessarily, losers as well.

Rest assured that at most coordinates on the map there are kids
wearing Nikes and drinking Gatorade and laughing at the latest
risque beer ads as they watch the Yankees or the Detroit Pistons
on ESPN International. All well and good. But that allegiance is
likely coming at the expense of an indigenous sport, an
indigenous brand, an indigenous cultural touchstone. "Sports are
decentralized and localized in innumerable places," says LaFeber.
"But in the U.S., with our centrally directed mass merchandising,
sometimes we aren't able to conceptualize it that way. Ask an
Asian shoe manufacturer what they think about globalization and I
bet you get a different answer than when you ask Nike
executives."

Or you could ask a Brazilian soccer fan. The most populous
country in South America is the world's top producer of futbol
talent. But European leagues, taking advantage of the downtrodden
South American economy, have aggressively pursued all the best
players. Brazilian teams, often owned by multinational
corporations, have been all too happy to sell stars overseas for
transfer fees that can top $10 million--and it's not as if that
money goes back into the team. So while Real Madrid fans can
cheer for Ronaldo, clubs in Brazil have second-rate rosters
playing before disaffected crowds.

There are other costs and consequences of doing business in the
global economy. Because of time differences, if hoops fans in
China want to watch Yao live or hockey heads in Sweden want to
catch Peter Forsberg in a Colorado Avalanche game, it often
entails waking up before dawn or tuning in mid-morning. "It
sounds minor, but it's a real hurdle to having a global league,"
says Breck McCormack, president of the Asian division of IMG, the
Cleveland-based marketing giant. "Television drives so much of
sports, but fans have to be pretty committed to watch a telecast
at five in the morning."

Likewise, fluctuations among countries' currencies and vast
differences in their standards of living present a challenge. As
badly as Monterrey, Mexico, wants a major league baseball team,
it's hard to see the economics working in a market where fans are
accustomed to paying the equivalent of $4 for a decent seat to a
sporting event. Because of the strength of the Euro against the
dollar, the cost for U.S. leagues to do business in Europe has
spiked over the past two years. NBA teams and agents hoping to
tap into the mother lode of big men in Africa are learning
another expensive lesson: When the infrastructure for developing
talent doesn't exist, you have to bear the cost of building it
yourself. And like everything else, sports are vulnerable to
global events--terrorism, SARS, crashing financial markets. When
the U.S. accidentally bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade
several years ago, one consequence was the temporary removal of
NBA broadcasts from CCTV.

In the manufacturing and high-tech sectors, jobs once filled by
Americans are now being outsourced to cheaper labor markets
overseas. In sports, roster spots once filled by Americans are
now going to foreign imports. Some regard this shift as a fair
tradeoff for the billions of dollars the leagues will earn in
international revenue. "This is what a global economy is all
about," says Columbia University economist Jagdish Bhagwati, a
staunch proponent of globalization. "It's like the people that
complain about outsourcing but conveniently forget all the
business their company does in Europe and Asia."

But others argue that the loss of jobs is too high a price to
pay, and it's becoming a hot-button issue in sports. As John
Thompson, the former Georgetown coach who turned his program into
a national power after bringing in Jamaican-born Patrick Ewing
and Congolese 7-footer Dikembe Mutombo, recently told The New
York Times, "Players here need to wake up and smell the coffee;
eventually the [NBA] could go Euro." Other times, xenophobia has
been even more blatant, be it NASCAR's Jimmy Spencer's lamenting
Toyota's presence in the truck-racing series because the Japanese
"bombed Pearl Harbor, after all" or LPGA golfer Jan Stephenson
whining that "the Asians are killing our tour." Is it coincidence
that the two most high-flying sports leagues domestically, the
NFL and NASCAR, have the most homogenous composition of athletes?
At least in some pockets, "buy American" applies not only to
automobiles and electronics but to athletes as well.

If sports have steadily become as much about the cult of
personality as about the competition, the influx of foreign
athletes creates a challenge to the folks in the marketing
department. When your star player doesn't speak the native
language and leaves the country in the off-season, it can be hard
to build brand identity around him. Yao is Exhibit A that it can
be done, but other teams and leagues are less fortunate. "Whether
any franchise wants to admit it or not publicly, it is a real
issue and it is one of the major headaches of the NHL," says Tom
DeCabia, a sports marketing consultant and the former vice
president of PHD USA, the country's largest media buying firm.
"How do you make these guys household names when the names are
ones you'd never heard in your household?" (The overseas players
"have been a boon," responds Ken Yaffe, managing director of NHL
International. "They give us a unique opportunity to present the
global nature of the game.")

Perhaps the deepest consequence of globalization is that it
confers power to the dominant cultures. Political scientists talk
of the deployment of "soft power," a country's use of culture and
information, rather than political might or military brawn, to
exert influence. Traditionally, soft power has referred to movies
and fashion and consumer products. But today sports provide a
prime example: They're not being globalized so much as they're
being Americanized. Like the Starbucks logo and the Matrix DVDs
that have popped up in the most remote global backwaters, the
proliferation of televised American games played in American
venues slathered with American signage exacts a cultural price.
Leagues can talk about "respecting" indigenous cultures, and
broadcasts can be tailored to the local viewership--"Two rules we
have for showing [American] sports internationally are no
nicknames and explain the rules," says David Hill, CEO of Fox
Sports--but it's still an imposition of American culture.
Consider the recent edition of China's NBA Slam magazine, in
which a story on Kevin Garnett, translated from English to
Mandarin, came adorned with footnotes to explain terms such as
bling, posse and double-digit-carat rocks.

And it's unilateral: When it comes to sports, the U.S. runs what
is, in effect, a huge trade surplus. Happy as we are to ship our
sports products overseas--familiarizing the world with the New
Orleans Saints' backfield or the Colorado Rockies' starting
rotation--there is neither interest in nor exposure for imports.
Soccer, the most popular sport in the world, still struggles for
momentum in this country. Anything else is usually fodder for
blooper segments on the 11 o'clock news. NBC Sports chairman Dick
Ebersol dismisses the notion that American fans will clamor for
cricket and rugby broadcasts, the way overseas sports fans demand
more baseball. "If we could do a 5 or 6 rating airing the Monaco
Grand Prix live at seven in the morning, we would do it," he
says. "But that's not going to happen." So too are Americans
uninterested in seeing their leagues expand into other countries.
A recent ESPN online poll asked fans if they supported the idea
of adding a European NBA franchise. Of the 13,490 respondents,
79.3% answered no.

Stern bridles at any suggestions of NBA imperialism. He is quick
to point out that while overseas leagues take protectionist
measures, such as limiting the number of foreigners on the
roster, his league is a meritocracy open to anyone. If the teams
all play in North America, that's just a function of where the
money is. "Capitalism is a wonderful thing," he says. "This is
all about competition, about skills. Regardless of ethnicity,
race or national origin, that's the beauty of our game."

Annals of Globalization, Note 4

The British comedian John Cleese does a riff about why Great
Britain is superior to the United States. Among his reasons:
"When we hold a world championship for a particular sport, we
invite teams from other countries."

Ask dozens of worldwide sports industry experts about how
globalization will change sports and the answers cut a
predictably wide swath. But an overwhelming majority predict that
we're about to enter an era of truly global championships. "You
look at the success of the Olympics and the success of the World
Cup--after that, no properties are even close," says Swangard.
"[Global championships] make sense for television, they make
sense for the athletes, they make sense for fans, and they make
sense for sponsors."

Hockey's most sterling moment in recent memory came at the 2002
Winter Olympics, where the best Canadian, American, Czech,
Swedish and Russian teams played clean, fiercely competitive
games. Quite apart from providing a welcome diversion from the
NHL labor strife, this September's World Cup of Hockey in
Stockholm will trail only the Olympics as the year's most
significant international competition. "I think the product gets
diluted if it's held more than once every few years," says the
NHL's Yaffe. "But international competition just makes sense."

Calling such tournaments the wave of the future, baseball
executives agree. Major League Baseball will soon officially
announce a 16-nation World Cup invitational tournament to be held
in March, preceding the 2005 season. "The U.S., Puerto Rico, the
Dominican Republic, Venezuela--think about how many teams can win
this thing," says Tim Brosnan, baseball's executive for overseas
marketing. "And in terms of business in Asia, baseball leads the
pack. Yao Ming hasn't scratched the surface of what [Hideo] Nomo,
Ichiro [Suzuki] and [Hideki] Matsui have done in Japan. This will
just be a great international showcase."

The NBA would seem likely to be the first major U.S. league to
add a franchise in Europe. There are still significant hurdles;
not least, there isn't a venue on the continent that meets league
standards. Further, 15,000 Parisians might show up to watch
Parker and the Spurs play an exhibition game, but is there
sufficient interest to sustain crowds for 41 home games each
season? At NBA prices? Ebersol raises the point that the
retirement of the high-speed Concorde--"The first time we've ever
said, 'Screw progress'"--is yet another impediment to
transatlantic competition.

Plus, there is that bramble of federations and government
regulations. "No question basketball is growing in Europe, but
NBA franchises are a whole different ball game," says Marshall
Glickman, former president of the Portland Trail Blazers who now
consults for the Euroleague. "Some people even think that if the
NBA [tried to come] to Europe, the European Union would get
involved and try to declare it an illegal monopoly."

But Stern, who first raised the possibility more than a decade
ago, believes that travel costs and time differences can be
offset. At the same time, he is coy about when. The next step in
the process, he claims, is sending NBA teams to Europe for their
training camps. "Instead of going to South Carolina, you just go
to south Milan," he says. "If we sent four teams over, you could
have three games against NBA competition, three games against the
improving Euroleague competition and then come back to the States
to get ready for the season."

What else might the future hold? Look for sports that require
minimal or universal equipment to thrive. "Without any doubt, I
think extreme sports are the next big thing," says Hill of Fox
Sports. "Every country has got skateboards, bikes and concrete."
Careful not to offend any constituents or sponsors, truly global
stars the likes of Jordan, Beckham and Tiger Woods will be
increasingly bland. The measures which teams and agents will use
to lure athletes across borders will become more competitive and
untoward. And with the sports labor pool expanding, making
incremental differences in performances even smaller, Frank, the
Cornell economist, predicts that globalization will ratchet up
demand for performance-enhancing drugs.

But, ultimately, there is plenty of reason for optimism.
Globalization is a boon for athletes who have never had more
opportunity to match skills with the world's best. No longer does
the Japanese baseball star or the Brazilian point guard have to
wonder, What if? And though the traditional economic model
suggests that as more people compete for jobs, wages will fall,
as sports continue to grow globally, international television
rights increase and tributaries of revenues turn into flowing
streams, salaries for athletes, particularly outside the U.S.,
are likely to continue rising. "And the stars," says Frank, "will
get many fold what they do now."

Fans worldwide will get more games than ever, as global media
conglomerates owning both content and distribution rights will
continue investing in sports broadcasts. Expect to see more teams
follow the lead of Man U and the Yankees and create their own
networks devoted to the franchise. The pending explosion of
broadband and the proliferation of television tiers--the
so-called thousand-channel universe--may end up being a blessing
for niche sports. Not unlike the magazine kiosk that seems to
have a periodical on even the most obscure topics, there will be
a television platform for every sport. "Fans of Thai kickboxing
may have to click on ESPN59 and they may have to pay a premium
fee, but they'll be able to get it," says media consultant Neil
Pilson, a former head of CBS Sports. "The emerging technology
will help [niche sports] get distributed." For sponsors, sports
are still the most effective vehicle for reaching males, whether
they live in Dublin, Ohio, or Dublin, Ireland.

But there's something more fundamental as well. Sports unite a
lot more than they cleave. Indians and Pakistanis might be on the
brink of mortal combat, but they lay down their arms and suppress
their hostility for test cricket. Even in countries where
anti-Americanism is at its most virulent, kids will still wear
Yankees jerseys. As the world simultaneously gets smaller and
more complex, sports are a connective tissue. As Stern puts it,
"When sports transcend borders, good things usually happen."

Late one recent afternoon in Shanghai, on the Reebok-built courts
behind the Ritz-Carlton, a young, muscular gym teacher stood
before 50 or so kids. He held a basketball and lectured on the
nuances of lan qiu--hoops. Beneath a massive billboard of a
stoic-looking Yao Ming, the instructor explained that dribbling
must be continuous and that kicking the ball is forbidden. He
broke his Mandarin to say Magic and proceeded to spin the ball on
his finger. As the schoolkids giggled and looked on in awe, he
raised the ball over his head. As it spun, illuminated by shadowy
sunlight, it looked for all the world like a rotating globe.

NEXT WEEK A leading NHL agent explains the hazards and benefits
of having a largely international roster of clients.

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY JOE ZEFFCOLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY JOHN W. MCDONOUGHCOLOR PHOTO: JAMES BIEVER/NFL PHOTOS NFC FAR EAST By 1998 cheesehead chic had made its way from Green Bay to Tokyo.COLOR PHOTO: WU CHANGQING/IMAGINECHINA THE REAL THING The soaring popularity of Yao (13) has made him a hot property in China and a front man for NBA expansion.COLOR PHOTO: EDDIE CHENG/EPA (JORDAN) FACE THE NATIONS The Jordan image (left, in Taiwan) and the Beckham handshake (in Tokyo) translate easily into any language.COLOR PHOTO: YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/GETTY IMAGES FACE THE NATIONS The Jordan image (left, in Taiwan) and the Beckham handshake (in Tokyo) translate easily into any language.COLOR PHOTO: COURTESY OF GATORADE HOLA HOOPS The reach of Toronto's Vince Carter extends south of the U.S. border.FOUR COLOR MAPS: ILLUSTRATIONS BY RICHARD FURNO AND JOE ZEFFFOUR COLOR ILLUSTRATIONSCOLOR PHOTO: JASON WISE EMISSARY Lefebvre is always eager to grow his sport abroad.COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO FOREIGN AID Europeans, like the Wings' Pavel Datsyuk of Russia, are filling more NHL roster spots.FOUR COLOR CHARTSCOLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK (APPLEBY) Stuart Appleby Events in 2003: 30 Countries: 4 Time zones crossed: 67COLOR PHOTO: STUART MILLIGAN/REUTERS Todd Woodbridge Events in 2003: 23 Countries: 12 Time zones crossed: 143COLOR PHOTO: BOB MARTIN TONY REWARDS Inspired by countryman Parker, a legion of French fans stayed up late to watch San Antonio in the playoffs.

Now playing on the really wide screen
As U.S. leagues show each season, the best way to reach fans
anywhere on the planet is through their TVs

According to the four major leagues--based on the numbers from
their most recent statistics--they air more than 650,000 hours of
games and shows combined in countries outside the U.S. and
Canada. (Because the NFL has no franchises in Canada, that
country's numbers were included in the NFL total.) The NBA led
with 293,803 hours, followed by the NFL (162,190), MLB (134,394)
and the NHL (63,224). The maps show how each league's telecasts
were distributed.

TOTAL BROADCAST HOURS

0-100 hours
101-200 hours
201-300 hours
301-500 hours
501-1,000 hours
1,001-3,000 hours
3,001-6,000 hours
6,001-9,000 hours
9,001-10,000 hours
Hours not included

THE LEAGUE with the highest international profile beams more
hours into Tunisia (9,173) than any other country. Among the
nations that get no coverage: Ireland, Malta, Rwanda and
Slovenia.

TOTAL BROADCAST HOURS

0-200 hours
201-400 hours
401-500 hours
501-600 hours
601-1,000 hours
1,001-1,200 hours
1,201-1,500 hours
Hours not included

BECAUSE EUROPEAN nations have their own hockey leagues, they have
less airtime available for the NHL. Other countries welcome the
programming. Thus, Sweden gets 439 hours; Chad gets
1,011.

TOTAL BROADCAST HOURS

0-300 hours
301-525 hours
526-1,000 hours
1,001-3,300 hours
3,301-5,700 hours
Hours not included

TOTAL BROADCAST HOURS

0-300 hours
301-600 hours
601-1,000 hours
1,001-1,500 hours
1,501-2,000 hours
2,001-2,500 hours
Hours not included

THE TOP recipients are our neighbors Canada (2,341 hours) and
Mexico (2,209). Some nations get heaping helpings of NFL product
(Peru, 2,009); others make do with little (Greece, 4).

[BOX]

DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH
Thanks to the 2008 Beijing Games, baseball has a chance to thrive
in another Asian nation

DRIVEN BY a desire to catch up with the growth of baseball in
other Asian countries and a fear of getting embarrassed on the
diamond at the 2008 Beijing Olympics--the host country gets an
automatic bid--Chinese sports ministers have declared bangqiu an
athletic priority. Which thrills Major League Baseball executives
half a world away. "We have a number of markets we'd like to
expand into," says Paul Archey, MLB's senior vice president of
international business operations. "China is definitely one of
them."

So last year, when China asked for help in preparing for the 2004
Olympic qualifying tournament, MLB obliged, sending Jim Lefebvre
to manage the Chinese team and, more important, play the role of
baseball apostle. Lefebvre, 62, was ideal for the role, and not
just because he had managed three big league teams, served as a
minor league coordinator and run a hitting academy. After an
eight-year career as a Los Angeles Dodgers infielder, he played
four seasons in Japan in the 1970s then managed another. Unlike
many gaijin, Lefebvre slid headfirst into the culture, speaking
the language, sampling every comestible. "You learn a lot when
you leave your comfort zone and take off blinders," he says. "To
help build up baseball in Asia was an opportunity I wasn't going
to pass up."

While Japan and Korea put players in the majors and Taiwan once
ruled the Little League World Series, the best Chinese players
now participate in the country's nascent, four-team professional
league, which is the rough equivalent of Class A ball. The sport
was introduced to China during the mid-1800s but was banned
during the Cultural Revolution. In a country where real estate is
at a premium, diamonds are the rarest of commodities. There is
one baseball venue in all of Beijing--a city of 13 million--and
there are no youth leagues.

Lefebvre arrived in Beijing last October and found that while the
players trained inveterately--"Chinese athletes are not allergic
to hard work, I'll tell you that," he says--they seldom played
games or held scrimmages. Thus their skills were fairly advanced,
but the fine points eluded them. Lefebvre recalls that in an
early intrasquad game, one team was staging a comeback with the
heart of the order up. The rally died when a player took a huge
lead off second base and got caught in a rundown. "What were you
thinking?" Lefebvre asked through an interpreter. The player
responded sheepishly, "I was trying to make something happen."

At the Olympic qualifying tournament last November in Sapporo,
China crushed Pakistan, Indonesia and the Philippines by a
combined 41-1 in the B Pool. In the A Pool, though, the team lost
to Japan, Korea and Taiwan and failed to make the field for
Athens. Still, the results were encouraging. "When the guys lost
to Taiwan 3-1 and had chances to win," says Lefebvre, "you don't
realize how much that means." What's more, outfielders hit the
correct cutoff men, infielders executed perfect rundowns and base
runners broke up double plays.

A proliferation of televised major league games--usually edited
to fit in 60-minute slots--is helping to build appreciation for
the sport. MLB recently announced a developmental agreement that
includes funding and fostering youth leagues and coaching and
umpiring clinics. Lefebvre thinks that within a decade, China can
mint major leaguers. "There's realism, but there's optimism,"
says Lefebvre. "The guys I managed didn't see themselves as big
league ballplayers; they saw themselves as
pioneers." --L.J.W.

MATTER OF IMPORTS
Over the last decade, overseas pros have gained a stronger
foothold in the U.S.

NBA US-born Players

1993-1994 94.0%
2003-2004 83.5%

NHL North American Players

1993-1994 81.3%
2003-2004 67.7%

MLB U.S.-born Players

1994 83.4%
2004 72.7%

NFL U.S.-born Players

1993 97.2%
2003 95.1%

DIFFERENT STROKES FOR DIFFERENT SPORTS
While the ATP's top talent travels the world, the PGA has built a
global behemoth in the U.S.

Though their respective headquarters are half a mile apart in
Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., the PGA Tour and the ATP have
dramatically different global models. Just ask pro golfer Stuart
Appleby and pro tennis player Todd Woodbridge, neighbors in the
central Florida enclave of Isleworth, who were discussing their
spring playing schedules recently. Appleby was headed to PGA
events he could reach in an hour or less by private jet: Orlando,
Jacksonville, Augusta and Charlotte. Woodbridge was off to pack a
submarine-sized duffel bag before embarking by commercial airline
on the ATP's swing through Monte Carlo, Rome and Hamburg.

Partly by necessity (tennis interest in any one country isn't
great enough to sustain a year-round tour there) and partly to
accommodate its workforce (players from six continents
infiltrated last year's Top 10 at various times), the ATP has
become increasingly international, scattering its 65 sanctioned
events from Doha, Qatar, to Chennai, India, to Vina del Mar,
Chile. It's not uncommon for a pro to compete in a dozen
countries throughout the year. "Our players come from everywhere,
and we feel [the placement of] our events should reflect that,"
says Mark Miles, the ATP's CEO.

The PGA, on the other hand, is a domestic concern, its events
effectively confined to North America. "The world's top players
have gravitated to the Tour," says the Tour's co-chief operating
officer, Ed Moorhouse, whose membership of 225 includes 71
international players. "We put on first-class experiences for our
competitors, and of course, the purse levels are higher than on
other tours around the world."

In fact, the PGA's centralized approach has given it global
dominion. The circuits in Asia, Europe and Australia are usually
left with fields bereft of big-time stars--and, consequently, of
big-time sponsors. A few international golfers, including Ernie
Els, remain card-carrying members of multiple tours, but others
face a dilemma: Uproot to the U.S. or stay close to home and
compete for lesser purses with a nagging sense that any success
is diminished. "When Colin Montgomerie plays in Europe, he has to
beat seven players," says one PGA veteran. "When he plays here,
he has to beat 77."

The ATP has no such worries, but the vagabond existence can make
it hard for the players to develop identities. In the U.S. you
can flip on the tube any weekend afternoon and odds are good
you'll find a live golf tournament; it's hard to broadcast tennis
with such consistency from distant and ever-changing time zones.
And when, say, third-ranked Carlos Moya of Spain plays only a
small fraction of his tournaments in the U.S., is it any wonder
his profile here is so low? "On the one hand, being absolutely
global and organized as a worldwide circuit makes it hard to
achieve deep penetration in any one market," says Miles. "On the
other hand, it's a very broad base of popularity. The net result
is arguable."

Miles concedes that the ATP has considered taking a page from the
PGA and dividing into an Americas Tour, a European Tour and a
tour for Asian and Australian players. The top players from all
the circuits would converge at the four Grand Slams. Likewise,
PGA Tour executives are wrestling with the prospect of expanding
their global reach without spreading the property too thin. "We
want to grow globally," says Moorhouse. "But we want to do it
cooperatively with the other tours." --L.J.W.

"The most globalized business in the world," says a prominent
historian, "is the drug trade. But for legitimate businesses,
sports is probably number 1."
A story on Kevin Garnett, translated from English to Mandarin,
came with footnotes to explain terms such as posse and
double-digit-carat rocks.
"capitalism is a wonderful thing," says Stern. "This is all about
competition, about skills. Regardless of ethnicity, race or
national origin."