When a standard Wednesday night NBA game tips off at 7 p.m. Eastern, it is midnight in London, 4:30 a.m. Thursday in New Delhi, India, and in Beijing it is 7 a.m. Thursday morning.
For a game trying to grow globally, it’s hard to get a fan overseas to sit down and watch a game live at those times.
NBA Commissioner David Stern was in China, where the NBA sent the Lakers and Warriors for some preseason games, and where the league opened up a school with Yao Ming. At a press conference talk of bringing a regular season NBA game to China came up.
But then Stern talked start times.
“Interestingly, there’s an intermediate step that Yao raised earlier with me, and that is the question of whether the NBA would consider modifying some of the start times of its games so that they would be more accessible to international audiences at a more convenient time for them to watch. And I think that the NBA is going to have to wrestle over the next decade as more and more of our viewing audience is outside the United States, is what’s the best time for games to be played so that those fans can enjoy them live as opposed to having to get up in China and watch an NBA game at 7:00 in the morning. And I think that’s a fun problem that we’re going to be addressing because so much viewing is happening outside the United States now.”
The problem is the domestic audience inside the United States is still the core audience. The NBA can’t start to alienate its core audience. For Europe, some of the weekend afternoon starts can work — a 1 p.m. Eastern start on Sunday is 6 p.m. in London, and you can promote that.
Asia is another matter. With basically a 12-hour time difference, there is no good answer. The Lakers and Warriors are playing at a good viewing time in China for their exhibition games, but back home America’s West Coast those games start at 4:30 a.m.
I do think you will see the NBA take a regular season game or games to China in the coming few years. It is the next step in that market.