National Basketball Association Commissioner David Stern has held talks with executives at IMG Worldwide Inc. about establishing a professional league in India, two people with knowledge of the discussions said.
IMG, the New York-based sports-management agency that represents Roger Federer, and Reliance Industries Ltd., the company controlled by Mukesh Ambani, Asia’s richest man, formed IMG Reliance in 2010 to develop sports and entertainment in the world’s second-most populous nation behind China. The company signed a 30-year contract with the Basketball Federation of India that allows for the start of a professional league.
One of Stern’s stated missions is to build the NBA brand, as well as the audience for basketball and its ancillary merchandise, outside of North America, where all of its teams are based. Logical outposts are China, where the league has a separate entity to conduct business there, and India, where IMG Reliance says it’s working to make the population proficient in sports other than cricket. India never has won a major international basketball tournament.
“Like China, India will be a long-term key to the NBA’s global growth,” Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon, said in an e-mail. “Unlike China, the NBA doesn’t have a century of basketball legacy to leverage. Joining forces with IMG would create momentum for the business the NBA couldn’t have generated by itself.”
Mike Bass, an NBA spokesman, and Jim Gallagher, a spokesman for IMG, declined to comment.
Talks among Stern, Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver and IMG Chairman Mike Dolan, who replaced the late Ted Forstmann in November, will continue, said one of the people, who was granted anonymity because he isn’t authorized to discuss the talks publicly.
The NBA has conducted grassroots events across India the past two years, and this season there are six games a week shown live on television in the country. Among the NBA’s marketing partners in India are Adidas AG, Nike Inc. and Coca-Cola Co.
The league also has a strategic partnership with the Mahindra Group, which backs a community based basketball league.
IMG Reliance established a sports academy to train athletes in India, where four-fifths of the population is under 50.
IMG also operates a training academy in Florida, where 29 Indian student-athletes participated in September in the joint venture’s inaugural scholarship program for tennis, basketball and soccer. Among them was 7-foot (2.1-meter) teenager Satnam Singh Bhamara, who ESPN magazine says could be India’s version of China’s Yao Ming, who retired during the offseason following an NBA All-Star career.