Tatum: NBA sees bright future in Asia, and the Philippines

Adrian Dy on May 08, 2018 11:39 AM
Tatum: NBA sees bright future in Asia, and the Philippines
NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum speaks to PH press (photo c/o NBA PH)

When the NBA's Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer Mark Tatum talks about how fanatical Filipinos are about the NBA, it feels a little extra special.

That's because Tatum leads the league's international efforts, and prior to his current position, was Executive Vice President of Global Marketing Partnerships, so he's well aware of where the country stands relative to other nations. And boy does it stand out.

Here are some of the stats Tatum dropped during a conversation with local media:

- 99 percent of Filipinos know what the NBA is, and many follow the NBA.

- Three-quarters of TV households this year have tuned into an NBA game.

- In terms of Facebook, the Philippines is the #1 region that engages on the NBA's Facebook global page. The local Facebook page is also the #1 regional page that the NBA has.

"You can tell the whole country follows the NBA, and loves the NBA," Tatum, a first-timer in the Philippines, said.

Here are six takeaways from our chat with the Association executive:

#1 Tatum is in town to talk tech

The highlight of Tatum's day-and-a-half stay in Manila is his Monday evening meeting with the local venture capitalist and start-up community. He's not here for a specific proposal or idea, but one thing the NBA likes to do is meet with all sorts of groups with new technologies to see how they can work together. Tatum said that such chats led to partnerships with WSC Sports Technologies (the platform that helps create the league's highlight reels) and the newly-launched NBA 2K League, just as an example.

That's right, the next big innovation for the NBA could come from the Philippines!

#2 The NBA 2K League is poised to be a big deal

In case you've been living under the rock, NBA 2K League is an e-sports league that's powered by the popular 2K video game series. Out of the 30 NBA teams, 17 have set up clubs that, last month, drafted teams of players, much like you would see in the NBA. They're now battling it out, team versus team, in a 17-week season, with as much as $1 million at stake.

"Our players are big fans of the 2K product, and our fans love the game. It's one of the best-selling sports games in the world. And so as we started thinking about the esports landscape...we started thinking that we have this game; why don't we start our own league?" Tatum said, recalling the league's origins.

The NBA leapt head-first into the new venture, and Tatum said that he expects all 30 hoops squads to have an NBA 2K League equivalent within the next two years. After that? "I think eventually we'll look to have teams outside the US participate. This to me could be a league that would be truly global in nature, and maybe you have a Philippines division, or you could have a team in Manila play against a team in LA," Tatum said.

Get out those controllers and start practicing guys.

#3 Basketball is truly global, but the Philippines is closest to what the NBA is in the US

The NBA's global footprint is huge, having really made an effort to extend around the world before other leagues like the NFL and MLB. When asked if the decision to do just that was a tough one, Tatum said that it wasn't. "The game is a global game," he explained. "It's played in pretty much every territory around the world. There are two global sports, soccer and basketball, and so for us, it was just natural for us to grow the NBA brand wherever the game is played."

Tatum paid tribute to local fans, describing them as "so knowledgable." As a result, the way the NBA is presented here is the same way as it would be presented in the US. Contrast that with a country like India, where the league is still growing, and there's more education efforts regarding the NBA and the understanding of hoops. Here though? Hardcore talaga dito.

#4 Beyond the NBA games, the NBA as a lifestyle

Beyond the games, the NBA is looking to grow the Association's brand here. You already know about the four NBA Store branches in the Philippines, but it's possible that there are more lifestyle brand extensions to come.

During the talk, Tatum mentioned things like the NBA Playzones in China, mall-based locations where kids can spend the day shooting hoops, NBA Fitness Centers, and the NBA Experience in Disney World, Orlando, which boasts of rides and interactive displays. He also brought up NBA Basketball Schools, which are currently already a thing in India and China, a tuition-based after-school program where kids can develop their skills.

While nothing's set in stone quite yet, it sounds like there are plenty of intriguing possibilities for expansion in the pipeline.

#5 VR/AR is going to bring you closer to the action

While there was no word on the NBA staging a regular season game here, or even another preseason game, rest assured, the league office looking at some new ways to bring fans closer to a live experience.

Tatum said that he is a big believer in augmented reality and virtual reality, and thinks it could help bring the in-arena experience to fans. "Very few people...get the chance to go to an NBA arena and watch an NBA game live. It's less than a fraction of a percentage point of people who actually get to do that. But with virtual reality and augmented reality, you can replicate that experience," he explained.

Tatum talked about the league's virtual reality app, and also hinted at other things down the pipeline. "At some point, the technology is going to evolve to where we'll be sitting around a table and there'll be a hologram of players running up and down the court," he said. "To me, that technology is really game-changing, because you can have people far away from the court experience that kind of action. "

#6 It goes down to the grassroots

With the Jr. NBA Philippines program in its eleventh year, Tatum wanted to reiterate that there are deeper rewards beyond teaching kids how to dribble.

"We really want to get more kids playing the game," he explained. "For us, that's going to be our contribution to getting more kids healthy, active. Teaching the game of basketball, there's so many wonderful benefits. You learn these valuable life lessons. It's not just how to learn to shoot, pass or dribble. You learn how to be a good teammate, how to work hard, how to get better, overcome adversity, how to lose gracefully, and how to win gracefully. Those are all life lessons that we're hearing from different governments from around the world are important lessons to teach children. That's why we're investing in more kids playing the game of basketball."

In the coming years, the eyes of the international basketball world will be trained on Asia, a meaningful development for the NBA. Between the World Cup of Basketball in 2019 in China, the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, and the 2023 World Cup, which counts the Philippines as one of the tri-hosts, expect a ton of NBA players to be hitting these shores, and playing top-level hoops. And it's only fitting, because as Tatum said, Asia is where "the affinity of basketball," is higher than any other place in the world.

"We're still very optimistic about us growing here," Tatum said. "The future of basketball in the Philippines is fantastic." 

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