North America’s top professional basketball league hopes its brand of hoops resonates with Mexican audiences.
While the NBA has been involved in Mexico since the early 1990s, the league is taking more measures than ever to draw in international fans.
In Mexico, that effort is resulting in the country’s first NBA store and league-affiliated team.
Why the NBA loves Mexico
The NBA embraces itself as a “global game” as the league works hard to court fanbases in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
Mexico is a particularly attractive market. The nation boasts 130 million residents and strong cultural connections to the US. The Mexico City metro area, home to more than 20 million, is Latin America’s largest urban hub. The capital city is also a bigger media market than anywhere in the US or Canada.
Basketball faces obstacles in national adoption
The NBA faces two challenges in the quest for Mexico.
Sports like soccer and baseball are more popular throughout the country. MLB has enjoyed a strong Mexican fan base for decades. Meanwhile, the NFL is making inroads with Mexican audiences at a rapid rate–76,252 fans filled Azteca Stadium in Mexico City to watch the eventual Super Bowl champions, Kansas City Chiefs, defeat the Los Angeles Rams 24-17 last November.
Secondly, while two-thirds of residents have internet access, only 38 percent of the population has a bank account. This causes the streaming services that carry NBA games and online retailers selling licensed apparel to adopt cash payment methods, slowing transaction times. While Chiapas and Oaxaca foster strong local basketball cultures, the states have some of the lowest internet availability rates in the country.
NBA games in Mexico
Taking the show directly to fans in Mexico is a big piece of the NBA’s commitment south of the US border. The league has staged 30 games in Mexico City since 1992 as part of its Global Games series.
The engagement involved only exhibition games for the first 22 years. In 2014, the NBA began including regular season clashes for the Mexico City slate.
A pair of regular season games were held at Mexico City Arena in December 2019. The Dallas Mavericks bested the Detroit Pistons 122-111 in the first contest on December 12. Fans attending the second installment on December 14 watched the San Antonio Spurs overtake the Phoenix Suns 121-119 in overtime.
The 20,000 fans who turned up for each of this season’s Mexico City games is a testament to the league’s strong footprint in the country. Only two NBA clubs, the Mavericks and Philadelphia 76ers, average 20,000 or more spectators per home game in the US.
The role of star players
The NBA, more than any other North American league, is filled with personalities who transcend the sport.
Superstars leading in the MVP odds like Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, and James Harden are internationally recognized icons with the power to make the NBA popular outside of American soil.
They’re also the figures the league leans on to make sure it is a hit in Mexico.
The first officially licensed NBA store in the country recently opened in Mexico City to coincide with the December games there. The 2,023 square-foot retail experience is located at the intersection of Masaryk and Aristoteles Streets in the Polanco district.
Jerseys bearing the names and team numbers of top NBA stars account for much of the merchandise sold at the store.
The G-League arrives in Mexico City
The NBA is bringing its G-League player development program to Mexico City in 2020. The league serves as the NBA’s minor league, and each G-League team is associated with a parent organization in the higher league.
The Mexico City Capitanes will compete in the G-League for at least five seasons starting with the 2020-21 campaign. The team’s home venue is Gimnasio Juan de la Berrera, a 5,242-seat indoor arena originally constructed for the 1968 Summer Olympic Games.
The association with Capitanes marks the first time the G League has expanded outside of the US and Canada.
The club also gives Mexican fans their best opportunity yet to watch future NBA stars in-person. Forty-two percent of NBA players had previous G-League experience at the start of the 2019-20 season.
Capitanes was founded in 2016 and currently competes in Liga Nacional de Baloncesto Profesional.
The Mazatlan Post