September 09, 2002

Pickup Basketball in the Global Village: An open letter to the NBA and WNBA

To: NBA, WNBA, and all team franchises
Cc: SportsFilter
Subject: Pickup Basketball in the Global Village

After this year's NBA playoffs and the recent World Basketball Championship, it is evident that The League is at an exciting time in its evolution, with basketball growing to rival soccer as the world's most popular sport. However, getting close and actually attaining the Number One spot are miles apart in difference, and with that in mind I would like to propose an initiative that might help push basketball over the hump globally, which would in turn strengthen the NBA’s position globally.

In 1964 Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian communications scientist, declared "the medium is the message" and ushered in the concept of the Global Village. Basically what he meant was that the electrical technologies of radio, television, personal computer, Internet, et cetera, were drawing the 6 billion people on the planet intimately closer together. His declarations revolutionized the business world, not to mention the cultural world that surrounds it.

Of course, I want to know if the Global Village has a basketball court. If so, what does it look like?

If the NBA wants to become the pre-eminent professional sports league in the world, it must find out. Here is one idea: organize the biggest game of pickup the world has ever seen.

Start Friday evening at 6:00pm and play for 48 hours until Sunday evening at 6:00pm. If every player on the floor got to play for a half hour and a player was rotated every 6 minutes, each participant would get to experience the sport of basketball with 17 other individuals. It would take 960 players to fill the 48-hour schedule. Men play with women play with teenaged boys and girls -- if you have been touched by basketball in your life, this is the game to be part of, sharing your passion for the sport.

This would be impressive in and of itself, but would be even more impressive if one began to wire the different gyms together. Imagine if the NBA had each of its 29 franchise cities around North America participating, each with a Blue team and a Red team, whose scores were being aggregated via the Internet and rebroadcast back to each gym, so the players could feel they were taking part in something bigger -- a metagame of basketball (now with almost 28,000 players). As the weekend rolled across time zones from east to west, the scores for each team would continue to grow, until this decentralized game of basketball reached its climax on Sunday evening.

Now imagine the scale a little larger, with the metagame running in time zones all over the world. Do you know how many places you could find 960 ballers that would want to take part in something like this?

Your media partners would love this initiative. A global slate worth of pickup games all connected to each other could produce a great deal of information, which could be broken down and viewed by consumers in many different ways. Kids (and adults) would send video emails to others playing around the globe. The event itself would be worthy of at least a three-part documentary mini-series recounting the event from locales around the world, which could be then be distributed globally.

Your technology partners would also love this initiative. The hardware and software required to link all of these games together, while technologically not sophisticated, provide a superior branding opportunity for a global player in the computer industry. As ever more markets around the world join the global network, your partners could benefit greatly by being affiliated with this event.

It is a win-win situation for the NBA to promote this strongly and get as many communities involved: on the one hand, the NBA increases the talent level of basketball around the world, generates revenues for local basketball interests, and unites a million basketball enthusiasts for one big decentralized exhibition game; on the other hand, as the NBA becomes increasingly successful at the above, the greater its financial returns for the event become as well.

Basically, the NBA would sell franchises to sites around the world to become part of this event. The minimal franchise fee would include national marketing support, the software necessary to run the event, and a detailed event management manual. The individual sites (likely operated by local basketball organizations) would be allowed to keep what they can make locally from registrations and local corporate sponsors, which would keep capital within the communities in order to continue building the basketball infrastructure worldwide. The NBA would generate their profit from franchise fees, the national/global advertising revenue, and the syndication fees for all information generated by the event.

This is an opportunity to stage an event that within 10 years could be bigger than the Olympics, World Cup and Commonwealth Games combined -- in terms of the number of participants. Despite its current greater popularity, FIFA could never pull this off. Football is a brilliant game, but the event would lack a little when the global scoreboard read 17-14 on Sunday evening. Precisely because of the high-scoring nature of basketball, participants would get a better sense of the global scope of the event -- the strange blend of immensity and intimacy as the baskets accumulated over the course of the weekend. With so many players involved, the odds of winning would basically be left to chance, so participants would simply be able to enjoy the communal experience of pickup ball.

Imagine: a global holiday weekend of basketball -- one that helped build the sport's infrastructure around the world as well.

Yours in hoops,


posted by smithers to commentary at 05:10 AM - 0 comments

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