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

Although the second edition of the NBA Paris Game will take place this Thursday between the Detroit Pistons and the Chicago Bulls (21:00), France is the only country (except for Mexico and Canada) that hosts an official match of the biggest league in the world Basketball. How to explain this privilege? Response items.

The date is entirely symbolic. Seeing the NBA return to Paris in 2023, 20 years after Tony Parker and the San Antonio Spurs in the capital, will surely bring back the most nostalgic memories. And let me measure the progress made in two decades. “The game changer was 2003, recalls Julien Lepron, basketball expert at the Sports Business Observatory. It was a turning point, because we saw that this very unattainable field like the NBA could be brought back in one evening.”

In October 2003, when the newly crowned NBA champion Spurs defeated the Memphis Grizzlies, it was “only” a preseason game. After 20 years, the biggest basketball league in the world comes 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 (9:00 p.m.). ). After the popular success of the Milwaukee Bucks-Charlotte Hornets in 2020, the NBA, forced to bite the brakes for two seasons due to Covid-19, is re-installing its magnificent barnum on the Old Continent during an event match.

Because the word event is by no means overused. To date, France is the only country (besides Mexico and Canada, the two countries bordering the United States). To explain the NBA’s arrival in the City of Light after eight editions in London (2011-2019), we must first understand why the Major League is looking to Europe.

As with CBA, the reasons are above all marketing and economic. “When you have an audience, you must show yourself to this audience. It has become quite clear that the NBA is visible in Europe. The question is how the CBA continues to develop and develop its business. It was well established twenty years ago”, analyzes Julien Lepron. And the audience is now responding. During the NBA Paris Game 2020, more than 200,000 ticket requests were registered (there are approximately 15,000 seats in the Bercy basketball configuration) and all were sold out within ten minutes.

Hunt in the Champions League lands

Coming to the old continent also means hunting in Champions League territory. “There is a competition between the NBA and the Champions League to see who can capture the largest international audience, analyzes sports economist Pierre Rondo. The NBA has an advantage over the Champions League, c “so it is not. they really have a local anchor. Franchises can move from city to city without realizing it, and that’s why the NBA moves games overseas, which the Nations League can’t. Champions.”

The interest in organizing this NBA Paris Game is not only in the game itself. The meeting is only a showcase, if not an excuse for the entire NBA ecosystem to meet with these multiple partners. “We see that the box office success is extraordinary. But the impact and interest of these meetings in Paris is above all the platform built for the week. Looking at the program of the week, the match is the door. But it is above all the platform produced in Europe during the week”, explains Julien Lepron.

Europe is one step ahead of other markets

Some may be interested in choosing Europe when other markets like Asia have more potential. But the NBA deploys many levers, some of which are certainly less visible than a rescheduled regular-season game, that follow the same logic. Julien Lepron says: “The NBA has added so much value to its brand that it has the ability to activate both. Today, the market in Asia is a little less mature. There we are talking about an extremely exposed game. you have to look at the less visible elements. The Junior League in Abu Dhabi, the Chinese development league… They put their pawns in very effectively in different formats.”

In this world driven by business logic, there is also sports controversy. By investing in Europe, the NBA is coming to the country of several league stars. In recent years, the internationalization of the NBA has passed such a stage that the best players in Europe are now looking into the eyes of American stars. The last four MVP titles (the best regular season player) were won by the Greek Cannis 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 is a logical choice compared to other European cities

An analysis of all these factors helps to understand why Europe is dominated by the CBA. But how to explain the choice of Paris compared to other big European cities where basketball is equally popular? After eight years in London, the City of Light was not chosen by chance. In addition to the obvious glamor and bling-bling aspect of its capital, France is currently the biggest NBA market in Europe. Although the league doesn’t release exact figures on the matter, Forbes showed that in 2020, France ranked first in sales of derivative products and second (after Great Britain) in NBA League Pass subscriptions. matches.

A large contingent of French representatives across the Atlantic is also pleading with France. With eight players currently under contract with the franchise (Nicolas Batum, Moussa Diabaté, Ousmane Dieng, Evan Fournier, Rudy Gobert, Killian Hayes, Theo Maledon, Frank Ntilikina), France is the third most represented country in the NBA behind the United States. Canada (21) and Australia (9). A powerful presence that allows the French public to easily come and cheer on one of their favorite games during this NBA Paris Game, like Batum vs. the Charlotte Hornets in 2020 or Hayes vs. the Detroit Pistons this year.

French is not a basketball player, but an NBA fan

Another difference compared to our European neighbors: the French is not necessarily a basketball fan, he is… an NBA fan. Which is very different. “The NBA business is not a sports business, but an entertainment business that is increasingly becoming a lifestyle business. We know the roots of the sport, but above all we know its culture. All aspects related to culture, whether in music, are mastered by the French. The most listened to music in France or lifestyle with the genre of rap. It works better than the others because “we go beyond the sports field”. Despite the huge enthusiasm aroused by this Pistons-Bulls, the exorbitant prices (between 80 and 815 euros) of the seats and the very relative sports interest (the two teams are currently classified in the bottom third of the Eastern Conference) sold out within hours. ), is the best proof of this.

Felix Gabori RMC Sport journalist

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