London could lose NBA game to Paris, but Sky partnership expected to be 'long-term'
By Simon Ward
The NBA is unlikely to stage more than one regular season game in Europe next season, raising the possibility that London could lose its established annual fixture, according to the league’s commissioner Adam Silver.
Last night, the city’s O2 arena hosted an official NBA game for the ninth successive year as the Washington Wizards took on the New York Knicks in front of another sell-out crowd of close on 19,000.
However, London’s future as the location for the NBA’s European jaunt is in doubt, with Silver confirming that Paris is a strong contender for a regular season game next year. The French capital has never hosted a regular season game, but has staged four pre-season contests.
In a press conference at the O2 ahead of the Wizards’ 101-100 victory, the commissioner said partly in jest: “I'm told I'm not allowed to break news today, but yes, it is possible. It is something we are looking very closely at, and that is playing a regular-season game in Paris for next season.”
Pressed on whether this would be in addition to a London game, Silver commented: “That is not clear yet. I think that, again, it's still a very labour-intensive undertaking to bring regular-season games over to Europe. Right now, we're still thinking that the format would probably be to have one game next year. But it's something that our London office is continuing to explore.”
The NBA has favoured London as the host of its regular season games in Europe because of the UK capital’s status as a global city (fans from 39 different countries bought tickets for yesterday’s game), the size and reputation of the O2, owned by Anschutz Entertainment Group, and the location of the league's regional office.
However, France has a much stronger basketball heritage, and produced many more NBA players than the UK, while the AccorHotels Arena, operated by AEG, in the Paris neighbourhood of Bercy, has undergone significant renovations in recent years. Berlin, which boasts another AEG venue in the Mercedes-Benz Arena, is another candidate to stage future NBA games.
Silver said: “One of the reasons London has continued to be so important is it appears to be in many ways a hub for us in Europe that is easily accessible, as we know, for people from throughout Europe who enjoy travelling here for events. This particular facility, the O2 Arena, the last time I looked, I think it was the highest-grossing arena in the world. They and AEG do a fantastic job hosting major league events, so that's made it very easy for us in a very turnkey fashion to come in and play these games here.
“But also… we are looking at other markets. We recognise that Europe is a huge market, that there is enormous interest, and many of the other European markets have a stronger basketball affinity even than they do here in England. It's been a marriage in part of convenience, but it's been very successful for both parties.
"Once again here, when we announced this game and put tickets on sale, they sold out in less than an hour. So there's no issue whatsoever in terms of demand. We do want to be in a position of bringing NBA games to other countries and cities in Europe, and that's something we're very focused on.”
Retaining a regular season game in London would likely gratify Sky, the UK-based pay-television operator that has replaced rival BT Sport as the home of the NBA in the country in a four-year deal starting this season, and which provided extensive coverage of last night’s game.
Silver expressed satisfaction with the switch to Sky, which is now owned by US media giant Comcast, saying: “I anticipate that'll be a long-term partnership. We're on multiple Sky networks for this game, and we're also partners in terms of their digital platforms. We're hugely excited about that.
“We see an opportunity with the entire Sky system to continue promoting the NBA throughout Europe. And of course in addition to Sky here in England and the UK, this game is also being broadcast, streamed, telecast in 200 other countries around the world. We anticipate a fairly massive audience for this regular-season game. Of course, it helps to be here prime-time in Europe.”