Basketball, which captured people's imagination after Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, has been included as a part of the curriculum in 220 schools in the country. While the National Basketball Association (NBA) picks up the challenge to train over a million students in the game within the next three years, the viewership of the game is expected to grow, too.
Yannick Colaco, MD, India, NBA explains, "All sports require sustained and comprehensive grass root programs to grow. Conducting tournaments at various levels is great but for these to have any significant impact, the sport has to have a strong foundation of grassroots activities. Look at how cricket has grown - we have an entire ecosystem built around the game and that is an important reason why the sport is so popular and keeps growing. Starting from school and district levels to Ranji Trophy, and now, IPL at the top, cricket is being followed, learnt and played on every level of society. With Basketball we are very clear that our focus has to be on the long term growth of the game. The more the game grows, the more people play and engage with it - ultimately the opportunity for the NBA to expand our fan base grows."
A few months back, the association organised NBA Jams in four cities such that there were college fests themed around basketball. It was about music, video games and 3-on-3 live basketball matches. The two programmes (NBA Jam and Junior NBA) form the two pillars of NBA's strategy. Sprite, Adidas, Sony PlayStation and Sony Six joined NBA Jam as partners.
The TG is 6-28 year old girls and boys. With the Junior NBA programme, the group targets class 4-10 students (up to 15years) and NBA jams in colleges take care of the rest. Colaco emphasises that any focus on helping to grow the game of basketball has to start at a very young age.
The comprehensive programme being taught in schools will also work at producing more coaches, and not just players. In Mumbai, five international coaches will coach the physical education (PE) teachers of 120 schools, to run this curriculum, who will in turn teach the students. NBA provides them with the equipment like balls, curriculum books, study materials, coaching boards, whistles, cones and three-day training.
In addition to the in-school portion, there will be team-based competitions, including 3-on-3 and 5-on-5 competitions, and the top players and teams from each school will be selected to compete in a citywide competition.
As per the plan, in the first year, Mumbai with 120 schools and Kochi-Kotayam with 110 schools will be targeted. Colaco explains the selection of cities, "We wanted to pick a tier two city in the first phase to get a learning of both a metro and a non-metro infrastructure. Plus, since it starts in November, South India has more favourable weather for outdoor playing."
In the second year, six cities will be touched, including Mumbai and Kochi, with more schools. In the third year, 10 additional cities will be covered. The curriculum is different for each class and hence, as kids progress from one class to another, so does their basketball course. Even the ball size, weight and shooting ranges change.
By the end of year three, NBA aims at touching 10 cities, 1000 schools, 2000 PE teachers and over a million children. Colaco denies the claims of many ho say that infrastructure is the biggest issue. "In Mumbai, there are over 120 basketball courts, in Kochi and Kottayam there are over 150, so, infrastructure is not as big a problem. Basketball has an advantage over other sports because its a simple game that doesn't require complex equipment. all you need is a flat surface, a hoop and a ball. This is especially relevant in big cities in India where space is at a premium."
All said and done, returns on the effort are a major concern. But it seems that long term following of the game and ultimately, on air viewership is the final aim. However, Colaco says that it's a developmental activity. "This is part of our overall business to grow the game. From a long term perspective, there are more kids who play the game, understand it and the more fans we have."
Additional revenue sources, says Colaco, include licensing of the live game (which is with Sony Six) and merchandising (which is with Adidas). The association along with Six is building a dedicated morning band for live basketball matches. So, there are 14 live games telecast every week. Colaco adds that about 2.9 million viewers watched the game in the first week and there is an increase in women audience. A disadvantage of this is that the games will be in the morning, starting 6am, but the advantage is that there is no competition in sports during those hours and the sports fans love watching live sports rather than repeats.
"It will build appointment viewing for us. You don't have to check the schedule, you just know that in the morning there is a basketball match." So, all in all, the association is targeting basketball fans, sports fans and potential sports fans.
Basketball season is generally between November and June.
NBA opened office two years back and has already done 500 events. NBA believes that there is scope for the game since it is a very short format game with guaranteed action.
The association is also working with Sony Six to launch a lifestyle show which will have NBA celebrities with behind the scene and fun things around the game. It will have footage from abroad but will be packaged in India.
Colaco agrees that football is bigger than basketball as of now, "but I think the gap can be decreased and we can attempt at being a strong number two to cricket."