Why did the NBA choose Paris to move one of its regular season games?

While the second edition of the NBA Paris Game will take place this Thursday between the Detroit Pistons and the Chicago Bulls (9 pm), France is the only country in the world (excluding Mexico and Canada) that hosts the official match of the biggest basketball league How to explain this privilege? Response elements.

The date is entirely symbolic. The return of the NBA to Paris in 2023, 20 years after Tony Parker and his San Antonio Spurs band in the capital, will surely bring back memories for the most nostalgic. And let us measure the progress made in two decades. “The game changer was 2003, rewind Julien Lepron, basketball expert at the Sport Business Observatory. It was a turning point, because we saw that this very inaccessible sphere like the NBA could be repatriated for the time of an evening.”

In October 2003, when the Spurs, just crowned NBA champions, beat the Memphis Grizzlies, it was “just” a pre-season game. After 20 years, for a regular season match the biggest basketball league in the world will come to the capital for the second edition of the NBA Paris Game, this Thursday between the Detroit Pistons and the Chicago Bulls at the Accor Arena (9 pm ). After the famous victory of the Milwaukee Bucks-Charlotte Hornets of 2020, the NBA, forced to bite its brakes for two seasons due to Covid-19, reinstalled its great barnum in the Old Continent for the time of a match event.

Because the word event is somehow not used very much. So far, France is the only country (besides Mexico and Canada, two countries bordering the United States) to host an official match. To explain the arrival of the NBA in the City of Light after eight editions in London (2011-2019), we must first understand why the Great League is focused on Europe.

As is often the case in the NBA, the reasons are largely marketing and economic. “When you have an audience, you have to show to that audience. It has become quite obvious that the NBA is showing in Europe. The question is how the NBA continues to build and grow its business on the basis that it is very well established twenty years ago”, studies Julien Lepron. And the audience responded to the present. During the NBA Paris Game 2020, more than 200,000 ticket requests were registered (Bercy contains approximately 15,000 places in the basketball configuration) and all were sold within ten minutes.

Hunt in the lands of the Champions League

Arriving in the Old Continent also means hunting the lands of the Champions League. “There is a competition between the NBA and the Champions League to find out who will succeed in getting the largest international audience, studies Pierre Rondeau, specialist in sports economics. The NBA has an advantage over the Champions League, c “is not actually has a local anchor. Franchises can move from town to town without feeling it and therefore the NBA moves games abroad, which the League of Nations cannot do. champions.”

The interest of this NBA Paris Game arrangement does not only lie in the game itself. The meeting is just a showcase, even an excuse for the entire NBA ecosystem to meet many partners. “We know that the success of the box office is unusual. But the impact and the interest of these meetings in Paris, it is above all the platform that is set up for the week. When you look at the program of the week , the match is the gateway. But above all it is a platform that works in Europe throughout the week”, explains Julien Lepron.

Europe is one step ahead of other markets

However, some may wonder about choosing Europe when other markets – such as Asia – have more potential. But the NBA is activating multiple levers, some of which, certainly less visible than a relocated regular season game, respond to the same logic. “The NBA has created so much added value in its brand that it has the ability to activate both, said Julien Lepron. The market is a bit less mature in Asia today. There, we are talking about an excess that public game. But you also have to look at the elements that the NBA assigns that are a little less visible. The Junior League in Abu Dhabi, a development league in China… They put their pawns in different formats effectively .”

In this world governed by business logic, there is also a sporting argument. By investing in Europe, the NBA has come to the land of some league stars. In recent years, the NBA’s internationalization has passed such a huge milestone that Europe’s best players are now looking directly at American stars. The last four MVP titles (the best regular season player) were won by the Greek Giannis Antetokounmpo (2019, 2020) and the Serbian Nikola Jokic (2021-2022). In the past two seasons, three Europeans (Jokic, Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic) have been part of the All-NBA First Team, the season’s best five.

Paris, a logical choice compared to other European cities

Examining all these factors helps to understand why Europe is favored by the NBA. But how to explain the choice of Paris compared to other major European cities where basketball is popular? After eight years in London, the City of Light was clearly not chosen at random. In addition to the obvious glamor and bling-bling side of its capital, France is currently the NBA’s largest market in Europe. Although the League did not disclose precise figures on this subject, Forbes indicated in 2020 that France occupied the first place in terms of sales of derivative products and the second (behind Great Britain) in subscription to NBA League Pass , which allows you to watch the matches.

A large group of French representatives on the other side of the Atlantic also pleaded for France. With eight players currently contracted to a franchise (Nicolas Batum, Moussa Diabaté, Ousmane Dieng, Evan Fournier, Rudy Gobert, Killian Hayes, Theo Maledon, Frank Ntilikina), France is the third most represented country outside of the United States States in the NBA, behind Canada (21) and Australia (9). A strong presence that easily allows the French public to go and praise one of their favorites in this NBA Paris Game, like Batum with the Charlotte Hornets in 2020 or Hayes this year with the Detroit Pistons.

The Frenchman is not a basketball fan, he is an NBA fan

Another difference compared to our European neighbors: the French is not always a fan of basketball, he is a fan of… NBA. Which is very different. “The NBA business is not a sports business, it’s an entertainment business that is gradually becoming a lifestyle business. We know the roots of the sport but above all its culture. All aspects related to culture have been assimilated by the French, whether in music with rap, the most listened to musical genre in France or in lifestyle. That’s better than others, it’s because ‘we go beyond the sporting field.” The great enthusiasm that this Pistons-Bulls aroused, sold out in a few hours despite the places at very high prices (between 80 and 815 euros) and a very relative interest in sports (the two teams are currently classified in the last third of the Eastern Conference ), is the best proof of this.

Felix Gabory RMC Sport journalist

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