The NBA returned to London last Thursday night with a regular season game between the Toronto Raptors and the Orlando Magic. The two teams put on a stunning show in front of a sold-out crowd, with the Toronto Raptors prevailing over the Orlando Magic in overtime.
The game was more proof that American sports are slowly taking over the UK. The NFL is hosting a number of games each year in London and has promised a London-based franchise, whilst the MLB is discussing exploring the possibility of bringing baseball to London’s Olympic Stadium in the near future. At the moment, the NBA has raised the possibility of having a Europe-based franchise and last week’s game was the sixth regular season game in as many years in the capital. Why has the NBA Global Games in London become such a successful event in a country that traditionally prefers other sports such as football, rugby and cricket over basketball?
The British Basketball League has struggled to establish itself and to attract fans (the London Lions play in an arena that holds just 7,000 people) while the NBA has managed to sell out all of its 18,689 tickets in less than one hour. Whilst it is true that the BBL and the NBA are fundamentally different, from the league format to the business model, we are still talking about the same sport, aren’t we?
From what we saw on Thursday night, a simple explanation for the NBA’s success is that the NBA is more than just basketball. Besides having the finest basketball players in the world, the succession of events that take place on court simply makes an NBA arena a fun place to be. From cheerleaders to mascots, every single moment is meant to entertain the crowd. It is certainly plausible that fans would go to NBA arenas purely for a good time with their families or friends, relegating the sport to a less competitive entertainment role. Last week the NBA show at The O2 Arena ran smoothly like a perfectly oiled machine. Everyone had a designated role: the players fiercely battled it out on the court, the cheerleaders danced, the mascots entertained people, the Orlando Magic staff (the home team for last week’s game) threw prizes into the crowd, whilst the big screens were encouraging fans to “be loud” or “go crazy” much like you would at a concert.
Furthermore, the rarity of the event made it a unique night for Londoners. Celebrities such as Sir Paul McCartney, Gordon Ramsay and Didier Drogba haveall flocked to The O2 Arena for this event in the past six years, making the NBA Global Games a very glamorous event, whilst contributing to the growth of the NBA appeal in the UK.
As a result of the above, being at last Thursday’s event has shown us how the NBA Global Games in London has established itself as an unmissable event in London sporting calendar and we can only expect it will grow in the future up to the moment people will demand more NBA action on this side of the pond.