By Barry Janoff
January 20, 2015: As he nears the Feb. 1 one-year anniversary of his succeeding David Stern as commissioner of the NBA, Adam Silver can look back at challenges and watershed moments that he has faced, which have helped to define his tenure to date.
He also can take the opportunity to look forward to challenges and events that will help to shape not only his legacy but the future of the NBA.
Silver focused on the latter last week in London, where the league's Global Games 2015 brought various executives, legends, the New York Knicks and Milwaukee Bucks to town.
NBA Global Games London 2015 was presented by Sportlobster and included marketing partners adidas, BBVA, Capital Radio, Cisco, Foot Locker, Gatorade, SAP and Sprite.
Prior to the game in The O2 on Jan. 15, the league conducted numerous marketing and community-related events involving NBA Cares, the Royal Foundation (along with Prince Henry) and Greenhouse (a national sports charity that uses "sport to engage hard-to-reach young people").
Among other hot topics that Silver addressed during a pre-game media conference: jersey sponsorships, NBA teams in Europe, Mikhail Prokhorov (Russian businessman and majority owner of the Brooklyn Nets) and the league's playoff format.
"Yes, we will see it," Silver said about sponsor logos (other than the NBA and official apparel company adidas) on jerseys. "I am a student of other leagues, and we watch how the industry has developed around the world."
In the U.S., Nascar leads the way with a plethora of logos on driver togs as well as cars, and Major League Soccer has brought jersey-front sponsorship prevalent on soccer kits worldwide home to the U.S.
The NBA has talked about and experimented with jersey-front sponsors for several years, including its Development League and in the WNBA, where several teams have sported logos from the likes of Boost Mobile, Microsoft's Bing, Finish Line, H-E-B and the Mayo Clinic.
"Certainly, kit sponsorships is something that is very prevalent outside of the United States. Ultimately, it will make sense for the NBA, as well."
Corporate logistics remains a significant hurdle, as logos that get national presence can not interfere with deals that teams have with local sponsors. As Silver pointed out, it's a situation of "figuring out the right economic model."
"Certainly, kit sponsorship is something that is very prevalent outside of the United States," said Silver. "Ultimately, it will make sense for the NBA, as well."
Regarding expansion into Europe, Silver said that the NBA studies what the NFL "and all leagues are doing," with London having been the site of numerous in-season NFL games since 2007. "[But] because [the NFL is] a different sport with a very different schedule — they play once a week, there are bi-weeks built into their system — it's a very different proposition in terms of them putting a team here, which is why, in my view, they are ahead of us," said Silver. "They seem determined to put a team in London."
For the NFL, the volume of noise also has increased regarding London staging a Super Bowl, also a result, said Silver, of the NFL's constant and continuously expanding presence there.
"Having been here the last few days, and having traveled to England over the last few years, I have found that there is increased interest in the NFL and people are talking about it," said Silver. "That's why I think they are ahead of us."
For the NBA, a drawback to European expansion is "the density of our schedule," said Silver. "the number of back-to-back [games], etc. For the NBA, for teams to travel over to Europe, to play, to get the appropriate rest, it requires that the remainder of the schedule be that much more compact. So it's a complex issue for us."
Silver, however, does see a solution for expansion to Europe to become closer to reality.
"For scheduling reasons, if we were to put franchises, or a franchise, in Europe, what I've said doing — and David Stern had the same view — is that we would need to have multiple franchises here," said Silver. "I don't think it's realistic to put one team here. What would have to happen is, if we were to come to Europe, is to do it with a division as opposed to a single team."
On the issue of playoffs and the seeding of teams, Silver opted that the best format "is the way we are seeding teams now. We are open to looking at other ways to seed teams, but it seems that all of the alternatives raise different issues in terms of the schedule . . . the travel. For example, there is a lot of focus on back-to-backs, four games in five nights, to the extent that if we changed the current conference and division structure it would potentially require even more travel. I'm open-minded on the issue, but I can't say, standing here today, that there's a better way of doing it than [the way] we currently do it."
Regarding a situation that connects the NBA, Brooklyn and Russia, Silver said of Russian businessman Mikhail Prokhorov's status regarding his majority ownership of the team, "He's told us [the] same as what his spokesperson has said publicly: There's noting imminent. He's hasn't determined that he's absolutely going to seek, but he's listening to offers. And that's an on-going process right now."
Next stop for Silver: the All-Star Game and related events, Feb. 13-15 in New York.
NBA Gets Call From London, Marketing Partners
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