Spanish ACB League leads the way, as interest in international basketball increases in the U.S. market

TalkBasket looks at the success that the Liga Endesa enjoys in the States, on the occasion of the live brodcasting of its final phase

Photo Source: elevensports.pt

For the majority of basketball fans across the world, the NBA remains the most voraciously consumed TV product. However, the American league is not the only one getting coverage in the United States. Recently, millions of US-based viewers had the chance to watch the Final Phase of the Spanish ACB League, which culminated with Kirolbet Baskonia beating FC Barcelona in a single final game.

Per ACB announcement, basketball in Spain had never drawn such interest. The concluding tournament, featuring 33 games in two weeks, was broadcasted to 125 countries and territories, with the USA being one of them. The merger of Eleven and ForTheFans (FTF) channels allowed the ACB to reach American homes through the country’s most popular platforms (DirecTV, NCTC, Verizon, ATT), through new forms of broadcasting such as Fubo.TV or Fanatiz and also through TV systems connected via SmartTVs and Playstation.

FTF/Eleven Sports, a multinational group of sports television channels based in the United Kingdom, had a live transmission of all games, with an uninterrupted schedule of more than eight hours a day. Eleven Sports has platforms across Europe and Asia including in Portugal, Belgium, Italy, Poland, Taiwan, Japan and Myanmar. It offers a range of live sports across its network with rights for the top-tier soccer leagues in Spain, Italy and Germany, plus F1, NFL and NBA. Live coverage of premium sports is provided in local languages, supplemented with news, comprehensive pitch-side and in-studio analysis, digital content and local programming.

Anthony Bailey, Senior Vice President and Managing Director in the area of North America at the Eleven Sports Network, discussed with TalkBasket.net the impact and popularity of European-based basketball in the United States market. Although not everything goes down to the ratings reached by the ACB coverage, the Spanish League remains a premium TV product in a somewhat uncharted territory for international basketball.

“What I can tell you is that we saw across all platforms around 59 percent during the timeframe of the ACB tournament, which we promoted heavily and we’re really proud of how well it did”, Mr. Bailey told TalkBasket before answering a variety of questions regarding the present and future of non-NBA basketball in the USA.

Q: In November 2017, Eleven Sports partnered with the ACB in order to livestream a Real Madrid-Barcelona game in several countries, including Belgium, Italy, Singapore, Taiwan and the USA. Is there an audience for non US-basketball in the States?

A: Because of the strong presence of US-based players in the league and how well the Spanish league had done over the past few years with the NBA draft and getting players to the NBA, it’s looked at as one of the top 3 leagues in the world. So, we thought it would be fit to promote it through the US-based players, so that people could recognize the quality of play.

Q: From a media perspective, why is the ACB way ahead of any non-NBA domestic competition in the world?

A: First of all, they did a great job of getting back to play pretty quickly. On the production side, they’re also doing a good job, supplying us with a lot of data around what’s going on. They are a good media partner.

Q: NBA TV in Belgium through Eleven Sports kept fans going during the quarantine period. Are sporting organizations willing to liase with broadcasters in order to supply content that would normally be exclusive to the league?

A: I can’t speak for the NBA, but a lot of leagues are trying to get the reach out. If you’re not a premium league, it’s very important to utilize content so that people know who you are. I believe that people in the ACB have done a really good job, as well as other leagues that are now looking at expanding beyond their borders and get a bigger reach.

Q: Recently, a large number of US viewers watched live coverage of the Taiwan Basketball League through FIBA. How was your collaboration with the International Federation?

A: We did the Taiwan Basketball League when they came back after quarantine. We didn’t have much time to promote it, but we managed to bring it to the States. The key is that we have a lot of people who love basketball in this country and to show them that there’s an opportunity to play abroad and follow American stars across the world will help the sport and the various leagues.

Q: Are you aware of the overseas US players’ following?

A: Yes, we are and we leverage this as much as we can. We did interviews with a ton of them during the ACB and the Taiwanese events.

Q: How large is the fanbase in the USA for those kind of events?

A: Fanbase in the US for basketball is probably a 100 million people. Our goal was to get a fraction of that, of course. We’re not really looking at the number of people watching, but at hours and minutes consumed- and they’re pretty high. We’re averaging about 87 minutes per viewer, which means that the majority of our viewers watched an ACB game from the beginning to the end.

Q: Did you do any particular research before buying the rights to the ACB? As far as fan engagement goes, is it true that in most countries Eleven Sports conducts regular polls asking people what they want you to air?

A: Correct. Basketball was something that we understood our viewership wanted to watch more and more. Our cable channel is available in 20 million homes, while our digital channel is available in 50 million. We were told that our fans wanted it and that’s what we want to procure. European basketball is starting to get noticed here, as is hockey and rugby. We have our own professional rugby league now.

Q: Any other basketball leagues or institutions you might be interested in?

A: Yeah, we’re going to be making some announcements soon. I can’t say anything right now, but in the next few days we’ll announce another two basketball leagues that we’re bringing over here. One is from Asia, the other is from Europe, both First Division.

Anthony Bailey, SVP and managing director for Eleven Sports in the U.S. Photo Source: elevensports.com

Q: How would you evaluate the broadcast landscape in the COVID-19 era?

A: During COVID-19 we’re finding, believe it or not, that our Prime Time has shifted a little bit. People are watching sports earlier in the day and then later in the evening. We call it “the Netflix effect” because we believe that people watch movies with their family at Prime Time. In terms of what I believe will happen after the pandemic, it will be a while before fans are allowed to the arenas. Delivering sports broadcasting will be extremely important and therefore we will be dealing with a bigger upkick in the post-COVID era.

Q: If the NBA was not to resume, which would the repercussions be for television?

A: I think here in the USA it would be huge. The country needs all four major sports right now in order for people to get their minds off from what’s going on and enjoy the competition again. Without these major leagues, it wouldn’t go well economically and socially.

Q: Do you believe the bubble in Orlando will work as well as it did in Spain?

A: I think the NBA is following a lot of what they did in Spain. I’m excited to see how it goes here. The facility they’re using is great and they hope to have very high viewership numbers. I think that the NBA will do just as good a job as what we saw in Spain, if not better.

Q: Apart from the ACB, which other Euro-basketball leagues could be of interest to the US market?

A: The British championship is quite interesting, as well as the Australian and the Chinese; the ones where teams compete well internationally. We have a strategy here about expats. If we can deliver their leagues to them and then fill the pudding with Americans playing in those leagues, it could be good for us. We want to build around specific sports and around specific leagues that we believe will have a good following due to the number of people in the USA from those areas. Our No.1 league is the NBA, of course, but outside the US we’ve had the ACB since our inception. They’ve been a very good strategic partner. One of the main reasons is the number of Spanish-speaking people in the States. The Chinese Basketball League interests us very much here.