NBA Asia Managing Director Levy: 'We don't take the Pinoy fanbase lightly'

Adrian Dy on Oct 25, 2018 03:07 PM
NBA Asia's Levy: 'We don't take the Pinoy fanbase lightly'
NBA Asia Managing Director Scott Levy spoke to reporters in media roundtable.

The Philippines is unique, among the countries Scott Levy, NBA Asia Managing Director, handles.

Tasked to oversee the development and expansion of the NBA's strategic initiatives in Asia (with the exception of Greater China and India), the Philippines is a different situation for Levy, compared to say, Thailand, or Malaysia. Unlike other countries in the region, basketball is well-engrained in the local Philippine culture, as is the NBA. In that regard, the job is easy. But diehard fans, and this country is full of diehard NBA fans, want different things, and want much more of it. And Levy and the rest of the NBA Asia office know it's important to keep them happy.

Speaking to reporters as part of a roundtable Q&A session, Levy admitted that satisfying Philippine demand continues to be the biggest challenge. Citing the league's local TV partners, which include ABS-CBN, Solar, and FOX, as well as the implementation of League Pass via mobile companies Smart and Globe, Levy said, "We want to make sure that there are enough games, and that there are enough outlets [to get those games], that people can continue to interact and really get to know [the NBA] beyond maybe what the scores are.

"We want to bring more players here, bring the real experiences. So we bring NBA players during the year, we bring NBA legends (the league directly brings around 3-4 players and legends to the country each year), we have dance teams, we have mascots [so that] people can get very close to the game."

This differs very much from other countries in Asia. Whereas in other countries, NBA Asia devotes resources to growing the game, often teaming up with local governments' sports ministries, there's no need to teach the basics here. "That just means we take a higher level approach to coaching and make sure that there's another step that they may [take]," said Levy, who cited the example of bringing in Fil-Am coach Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat into the Philippines to help impart higher-level coaching techniques.

Because the country is further down the line in terms of hoops techniques, the league's Jr. NBA program which is presented in the Philippines by Alaska, has played a huge role in recent years. "Nearly two million kids have come through the program...to improve their skill level. Many of our players have moved on to play in the UAAP, in the NCAA. Some are now in the PBA. So we want to contribute to the existing strength of the basketball community here," Levy said.

It hasn't always been smooth sailing though. Recently, ventures like the NBA Cafe and the NBA Stores in the Philippines saw their licenses expire and close. For Levy though, it's similar to the familiar "shoot your shot" maxim in hoops. "We're willing to try things and if they're successful, great, we'll continue them," he said. "But if we think there are better ways to engage, we'll do that." Levy added that while the physical stores may be gone, fans can still purchase NBA merch through NBAStore.com, and other places like Nike, Toby's and Titan.

Levy also applauded how knowledgable local fans are with regards to players and teams. While it's often thought that a large chunk of Pinoy fans are Lakers fans, Levy said that when you look at the data, it's winning teams that are able to capture the attention of Filipinos, with the obvious exception of teams in areas with large Filipino communities, such as San Francisco and the Golden State Warriors. "For me, here in the Philippines, we don't have to do much more than just make sure the players and the teams are exposed, because Filipino fans understand great play, and they understand great players. And when teams win, or players do amazing things, they become popular here," he said.  

Looking ahead to the future, Levy believes that mobile will still be the way to go, though with a caveat. "As the streaming speeds continue to improve...then we'll be able to deliver more content," Levy said. "We'll continue to adjust the delivery of our product as the speeds improve." He added that the league wants to look into more basketball mobile games, even locally or regionally developed ones, to help educate fans on players and give them more ways to interact.

To sum it up, Levy once again reiterated that the Philippines is "incredibly important," to the Association. "It probably is the market with the highest fan affinity for basketball, and that's daunting. To satisfy everybody, that's a full-time job.

"We don't take the fanbase here lightly. We are focused on making sure that everybody is happy with what they have available and we're listening for the things that we need to do better."  

Without a doubt, that's music to the Philippine fans' ears.

SIX SHOTS

Here are six other topics Levy touched on during the interview:

1. On the Philippines hosting another NBA Global Games

"The challenge with [the Global Games] is always, there's 15,000 people in that building, and there's a hundred million Filipinos that we're trying to engage around the NBA. So while the games are great, we are really spending our time figuring out how we can engage a hundred million Filipinos.

"But it's always in consideration and hopefully at some point in the future, we'll be able to bring the game back here again."

2. On the impact of a full-Pinoy player making it in the NBA

"That question has always perplexed me, because the fanbase here is so strong already. I mean clearly Jordan Clarkson is very popular here, but he's not the most popular NBA player [in the Philippines]. So would a Filipino player be the most popular player? If he was the best player in the NBA, he'd probably be the most popular player, but if he's not, I think Filipinos will follow that player, and will continue to follow the best players in the NBA because that's the expectation here in the Philippines - 'I'm looking for the best players and the best teams and that's who I want to follow.'

"But [by] the number of people who are playing in this country, I think it's just a matter of time before we have multiple local Filipinos playing in the NBA. It's definitely going to happen. The game is getting better, the coaches are getting better, the level of talent in the PBA continues to go up, and there are more Filipino players coming to the US and playing in university [NCAA] so it's definitely going to happen."

3. On the passing of FIBA Secretary General Patrick Baumann

"I personally knew Patrick and there was nobody that spent more time and energy and basically dedicated their life to the sport of basketball and had such a great impact on the sport of basketball around the world. It’s a tragic loss. Personally, I will miss Patrick and he worked very closely with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum. They had just seen him in a FIBA conference in Xi’an, China a few days before and typically with Patrick he was off in Argentina in another basketball event. I mean, he just, he was tireless in his efforts and he had tremendous success and it’s a tremendous loss to the entire basketball community."

4. On the NBA expanding the game towards female fans in the Philippines.

"[For the Jr. NBA PH program] our goal is always 50-50, boys-girls. We haven’t yet achieved that here in the Philippines but again, working closely with the schools, working with Alaska, working with SM...the percentage continues to increase. I'm not exactly sure what the [numbers are] last year, but it's still too low.

"I think that’s why it’s a little bit of frustrating here. In countries like Thailand and Indonesia, where, well Thailand has more than 50 percent girls, and in Vietnam and Indonesia it’s over 40 percent right now. So, again, our goal is 50-50. This sport is gender neutral, we bring WNBA players into market, we’ve done that many times already and now we’re going into schools to really try to encourage young girls to play the game."

5. On giving tips to local leagues to become more successful

"We’re not here to dictate how a league should be run. What we’re trying to do is understand where we can be helpful, if they’re looking for assistance in building an arena, we’re happy to help with that. If they’re looking [at] how to enhance ticket sales, how to expand the live in-arena experience. Whatever it is that they may ask for our assistance, we are here to help. We support local basketball in every way we can but we’re not being prescriptive in saying this is how you should run a league in the Philippines. There’s way more knowledge on the ground here in the country than we have about what’s successful here."

6. On sports stars from other leagues interacting with NBA players

"Our players are incredible. They are global icons, they’re incredible on social media which continues to grow their fanbase….because our players are active on social and they’re interested, personally interested in fashion and technology and gaming, and music and they have relationships with Jay-Z and with Usher, with every other top performer and other athletes are also interested because they’re fans. So when we do an event in London, we get calls from players on Chelsea, and on Tottenham and on Liverpool and on Man U and say “Hey, we wanna come to the game because we wanna see these athletes play.

"So, anytime there is an athlete that is a fan of the NBA we will look to engage them. We work with all other sports leagues and we’re also fans. Our players are fans. There’s an opportunity to go to Camp Nou in Barcelona, our players want to be there. So, this is more driven by the players, their personal interests in other sports and other athletes and luckily our athletes are generally pretty popular around the world, and we’ll encourage that engagement and facilitate some particularly social media moments where Neymar comes into the locker room and exchanges a jersey with Steph Curry. We had Ronaldinho wearing a Carmelo Anthony jersey, dribbling a basketball on his head. All these moments are really special for the crossover fans from one sport to another. But it’s really driven by our players’ personal interest or other athletes’ personal interest in basketball."

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