'World Feed Truck' allows NBA to be a globetrotter
By Frank Pingue
TORONTO (Reuters) - The NBA's desire to tap into cricket-mad India or football-obsessed Brazil and grow its global fan base will rely greatly on a chaotic mission control trailer known as the World Feed Truck.
While the NBA has many initiatives to help boost its already strong global appeal, broadcasts produced in the World Feed Truck and beamed out to the farthest corners of the earth could be its best weapon.
A nondescript white trailer, parked across the street from a Toronto arena on a bone-chilling night where the NBA played its first All-Star Game outside of the United States on Sunday, is where the event's signal was sent around the world.
Inside the dimly-lit trailer, producers work feverishly in front of a wall of TV screens and panels of lit-up buttons and levers to coordinate a broadcast for the NBA's international television partners.
The 40-foot (12 metres) windowless trailer is packed floor-to-ceiling with equipment that emits a constant humming noise and leaves little space for the 17 people inside to manoeuvre.
The signal is beamed to TVs, tablets and mobile devices and allowed the NBA to reach people in 215 countries and territories in 49 languages with the hopes of winning more fans.
The folks inside are keeping a special eye out for ways to enhance the broadcast for a global audience and are constantly seeking out replays featuring international players that fans from overseas are tuning in to see.
"We're never going to be the equal to cricket in India, it's like a religion in that market, and same for football in Brazil," Matt Brabants, NBA senior vice-president of global media distribution, told Reuters.
"But we know that if we can start to make inroads that being number two is a real strong statement in a market like India where you've got a billion of people."
Some 17 international TV and radio networks from countries including China, France and Japan did live onsite commentary for the All-Star Game, according to the NBA, while 13 TV networks from Azerbaijan to Uruguay broadcast it remotely.
International interest in the NBA heated up 30 years ago in the days of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird and then took off in 1992 when the U.S. basketball squad known as the "Dream Team" won a gold medal at the Barcelona Olympics.
That team was the first U.S. Olympic squad to feature active NBA players and left a lasting impact in Spain, where appetite for North American basketball has grown ever since despite being many time zones away.
"In Spain the NBA is perfect for us because Spanish people don't sleep so much," Inaki Cano, an NBA commentator for Spanish broadcaster Movistar+, told Reuters ahead of Saturday's popular slam dunk and three-point shooting contests.
"We don't sleep because we are watching NBA and our slogan is 'sleep is for cowards.' We love to have dark circles under our eyes."
To help give European fans a rare chance to watch live NBA action and still get a good night's sleep, the league ramped up its slate of Sunday afternoon starts this season, allowing the games to be aired in primetime for some international fans.
The NBA's efforts are clearly working as 336 international media members from 40 countries and territories were in Toronto for All-Star Weekend.
In addition to reaching TVs across the world, the NBA also builds its brand with programs like Basketball without Borders, which gives children from countries across Africa, the Americas, Asia and Europe a chance to learn directly from NBA players.
"For us it's about trying to find out how to create more fans of basketball. ... we want to figure out how to get more kids dribbling a basketball," said Brabants.
"The opportunity is immense and we are just scratching the surface."
(Editing by Larry Fine)