Taking a long leap of faith!

Taking a long leap of faith!


India is a sports fanatic country, more specifically, a cricket fanatic country. NBA India (National Basketball Association India) understands this very well. That’s the reason why it is aiming to make the game the second most dominant sport in India in the next three years and make a long-term impact on its growth. This is the main agenda for Yannick Colaco, the man who took over as its managing director in 2013. He oversees NBA’s India business and leads its growth plans with a primary focus on growing the game of basketball in India from the bottom-up. Colaco, who has been fortunate to work in the sports industry for 13 years, believes that the potential for this sport in India is immense.


Needless to say, NBA is extremely popular worldwide and has its own share of fans in India as well. Its viewership is growing year-on-year in triple digits and its social media following is growing by over 400 per cent. In this interview, Colaco talks about how the game has grown in India and the future of the game in the country.

For any sport to grow well, we need to get the foundation right &  have strong, robust, well-developed grassroots focused programs

What is NBA India doing to make an impact and grow basketball in India?

Be it football, basketball, cricket or any other sport, for it to grow well, the most fundamental requirement is to get the foundation right. We need to have strong, robust, well-developed grassroots focused programs and accordingly, we have a large program which is focused on getting more kids to play. For example, along with Reliance Foundation, we have a program where we incorporate the game into school curriculum. So far, we have opened out to 1,000 schools in eight different cities and have over a million kids who are a part of the program. The program is also focused on training key teachers in teaching methodologies by bringing in foreign coaches. In Junior NBA program, we have introduced kids between the age of seven to 16 to this game by making learning fun. We are looking at scaling this program and taking it to 14 cities this year across 2,200 schools.  In each city we run this program for about 2.5 to three months, which culminates, into a competition.

As far as college students go, we have something called the NBA JAM, a touring basketball festival, where we introduce youth to the game in a fun atmosphere.  Last year we toured 14 cities and had half court games. We go into an iconic college in the city, set up the entire festival zone, and had over 3,000 teams from 1,200 colleges play there, making it the largest basketball tournament in the country.

We believe that the opportunity is not restricted within the metros alone. The response for this sport is phenomenal in Tier 2 and 3 cities as well with over half a million (unique) kids participating. That is why we plan to take NBA JAM to 24 cities this year.

As you know, India is a cricket crazy nation followed by tennis, football, kabaddi and hockey (in no particular order). And NBA India has plans of making basketball the second most dominant sport in the country. What is your strategy to make this happen? 

One, we believe that we need to grow the game ground-up. The more the game grows, the bigger our opportunity is. Two, we would like to give kids a chance to play the game by imparting the right training techniques. For this, we aim to coach the coaches itself. Three, we want to facilitate the aspiring players access to NBA.

What motivates the child to play is to see a star play the game. We got into a partnership with SONY SIX television channel where we telecast 14 live games a week, and also show game highlights. We are working closely with our broadcast partners and our visual partners in repurposing content, customizing and packaging it to show it to the fan base at prime time. That is something we are going to work on very aggressively over the next couple of years.

Four, we are facilitating success in basketball, like Satnam Singh, the first player from India to be drafted into the NBA. We want to create a pathway for more kids to get into NBA. We will create a pathway through the Junior NBA program or camps.

We also have initiated a pathway program to the NBA along with ACG called ACG-NBA Jump, India’s first national basketball talent search program where a standout player will attend the NBA Development League’s National Tryout in the U.S. in 2016.  The program tipped off in Delhi in October by Satnam Singh and has already visited three cities with over 500 youth participating. ACG-NBA Jump is the next step in our continued commitment to grow the game of basketball in India.  With Sim Bhullar becoming the first player of Indian descent to play in the NBA and Satnam Singh becoming the first Indian-born player to be drafted into the NBA, basketball playing youth in India now have relatable figures to look up to, and this program will give them the opportunity of a direct path to the professional ranks.

We also have the NBA store, ecommerce stores for which we have partnership with Jabong. We have already delivered NBA merchandise across the country within eight months of opening it.

While this is all a part of the larger strategy, we are also looking at customizing and localizing our products in India. We are looking at weekly shows with SONY Six by a local anchor so that the game is easily understood and adopted by the aspiring Indian players.

Do tell us more about your marketing strategy?

It is extremely important for us to be able to continuously engage our fans and we use digital media to do that. We have a great partnership with Twitter and Facebook to keep fans more engaged. The propensity to follow a game if you play and understand is much higher than if you have never played the game before. By growing the game of basketball we know that in the long term we will grow the fan base significantly.

What is your barometer to identify whether the game is going in the right direction?

From a pure participation perspective, in the next few years if we can make basketball a sport of choice among young kids, it will be a major achievement. As far as evaluation goes, we will look at conversion in terms of viewers, digital communities and social media. The growth of the game is something we can see and gauge over a period of time, say five to eight years horizon.

What are some key execution lessons a budding entrepreneur can take away from you in your role as the CEO of NBA India? 

I have realized that in sports and in everything you do, however big your organization is, innovating, being creative and thinking out-of-the-box is the main reason for success. For us to be successful in India we need to be giving consumers what they want. When you build a product or service, your success will be determined based on what your consumer wants. It is important to find that niche and be creative and innovative to find the solution towards what the consumer needs.

Poornima Kavlekar has been associated with The Smart CEO since the time of launch and is the Consulting Editor of the magazine. She has been writing for almost 20 years on a cross section of topics including stocks and personal finance and now, on entrepreneurship and growth enterprises. She is a trained Yoga Teacher, an avid endurance Cyclist and a Veena player.

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