Hoop Dreams: The Global Future of Basketball

Last year, the world lay mesmerized by the drama and spectacle of the FIFA 2014 World Cup in Brazil. All stars sat at the table before them, and the dramatic wins and loses had their cups running over with home goals, ear biting, weeping Colombian players and so on. It was amazing. For what seemed like a long time coming, many Americans tuned into the sport with as much enthusiasm as their international counterparts, crowding in parks, cheering and mourning the rise and fall of the US national team, who again, surprised the world with their performance. It was a world cup as never seen before. Long time winners left early, and the strongest in the game came out on top.

I often wonder whether in the future, basketball could have a similar audience. In this article, NBA lead writer Josh Martin highlights a similar concern I have with the future of basketball in the global space. Will basketball ever be as successful or appreciated as an international sports, just as soccer, baseball or even the NFL are?

Basketball has not been able to catch up with soccer as an international sport, but it is getting there. The FIBA World Cup, though not as popular as FIFA, has managed to catch up to the world’s most thrilling sports. as this article reports. Basketball is quickly becoming an internationally branded sport, also not void of it’s own theatrics and excitement. The contributing factors to basketball’s rising popularity can be attributed to an increase in revenue after renewals from national television pacts, this is to say that the sport is gaining traction and more people are watching. An estimated $4.75 billion was generated for the league in the 2014-2015 year gap. That’s a whooper! And it looks like “things can only get better”.

The NBA is now one of the most popular brands in China, with a 70 million people follower base on popular blogs like Sina Weibo and Tencent. These are the hoop dreams coming to life outside what we’ve known to be our global scope of the sport, a scope that is often limited to the U.S. With the global expansion of basketball fueled by strong marketing and branding efforts, more countries continue to adopt the sport, but how far can they take this and are the grass root efforts and resources enough to propel developing countries with interest to the top?

What generally sets the USA apart both in soccer and basketball is the availability of resources. We saw team USA’s strength in the world cup, not particularly because this is a sport tailored or grounded in USA tradition as opposed to our european counterparts, but more so the positive effects of investment and financial resources which are highly important factors when it comes to training.

As much as basketball is catching up, soccer is still moving forward, and the gap continues. Soccer’s re-ignition in the US may mean more investment, marketing and branding. As basketball and soccer do not face similar challenges in taking up the game, soccer may continually lead in popularity. My version of hoop dreams do not dictate basketball being on the same playing platform as soccer, but as basketball being an internationally credited sport in it’s own right, meaning more marketing, branding, advertising, viewership and support.