The (Sports Marketing) World is Flat, Part III

The evolution of the sports marketing world didn’t happen overnight, nor did it directly coincide with a specific event. There are however certain benchmarks, touchstones and signposts that, viewed through the lens of history, give us an better understanding of the world we live in today and how it came to be. Part III of this series looks at one event from the early 1990s, the USA Basketball “Dream Team” that participated in the Barcelona summer Olympics, to provide insight on the development of the NBA, and basketball in general, as a truly global sport.



The USA Dream Team

In 1988 the United States men’s basketball team finished with the bronze medal in Seoul, marking only the second time the U.S. had failed to win the gold any time they had participated in the competition. There would not be a repeat four years later. The U.S. decided to send their NBA stars to Barcelona, and in so doing made basketball, and by extension the NBA, into a global game. Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and the rest of the NBA Dream Team were not merely competitors, they were the featured attraction in what amounted to exhibition games for the Olympics, and the greatest global marketing campaign the NBA had ever seen. But the other nations left Barcelona with more than autographs from David Robinson, Patrick Ewing and Scottie Pippen. And when they returned home they soon found NBA games on TV, and U.S.-based players in their domestic leagues.


The next year, 1993, three foreign-born players were drafted in the NBA. In 2000 the number had jumped to 14 and by 2006 the number was 18, including the number one overall pick!  In fact, three of the last six overall first picks have come from outside the U.S. Currently, NBA rosters feature 75 international players from 30 different countries and territories. NBA games and related programming are broadcast to 215 countries in 41 languages via 202 telecasters.

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The (Sports Marketing) World is Flat, Part I

In 2005, author Thomas L. Friedman released the critically-acclaimed best seller, The World is Flat. In it he posited that advances in technology – telecommunications, software and consumer-generated media to name just three – have created an environment where competition for jobs is no longer based on geography or industrial capital.  For the sports marketer, a parallel trend has emerged simultaneously and on no less global a scale. In fact, this flattening described by Friedman has helped to create an environment burgeoning with opportunity for the global sports marketer.


The proliferation of new generation communication and distribution channels such as broadband, mobile telephony and satellite television has changed the way people consume and experience sports. Nothing less than a paradigm shift has occurred and sports marketers, to truly maximize their investments, must re-evaluate their entire communications mix. We live in a world where a sports fan in New York can be seen wearing the football (soccer) jersey of a team based in London with the name and number of a player from the Ivory Coast on the back. How do you target someone like that, and with what message?

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