scorecardresearch Skip to main content

Mexico City game shows NBA’s global vision

An attempt to play a Spurs-Timberwolves game in Mexico City was halted before it began after a transformer exploded at Mexico City Arena on Dec. 4, 2013.Edgard Garrido/REUTERS

MEXICO CITY — This busy city of 9 million appears to be a perfect international target for the NBA and its ever-growing brand.

It is no accident that the league, like its NFL brethren, are playing regular-season games internationally, although it has no plans of adding more teams.

While Mexico is a soccer-crazed country, there may be some room for NBA basketball in their loyalties. Hence, the league persuaded the Sacramento Kings to give up a home date and host the Celtics on Thursday at Mexico City Arena.

One thing NBA commissioner Adam Silver has continued from his predecessor David Stern is the league's dedication to expanding its brand internationally. They have flurried Europe and Asia with regular-season and exhibition games, organized summer promotional tours, and allowed international fans to participate in All-Star voting.


The league's exploration into Mexico City is just another bold step in its quest to become a true international sport. The NBA offers its league pass — through which fans can watch all non-nationally televised games — to its Mexican fans.

League officials are hoping that placing meaningful, regular-season games in these large international markets will help popularize the sport. This won't be an exhibition of alley-oops and matador defense to thrill the fans. The Celtics and Kings both need this game. Sacramento is trying to gain consistency after beating Dallas on Monday while the Celtics are in the middle of an important five-game road trip.

"Mexico is a very large priority market for the NBA," said Philippe Moggio, Senior Vice President of NBA Latin America. "It's been so for a long time. "I think the level of the fan base, they want to see regular-season matchups."

Moggio estimates that approximately 850,000 Mexican fans participate in the league's Facebook page and strong television ratings for the ESPN NBA package and for the NBA Finals.


"We see very positive momentum when we have these type of activities," Moggio said.

Whenever Silver travels to Europe, Asia, or Mexico, he is peppered with questions about international expansion. Moggio said the league has no plans to expand to Mexico City, although it may be the most feasible market. Flight time from Mexico City to San Antonio is a mere two hours, meaning travel issues would be minimized in comparison with a team in Europe.

But the league insists it has no plans of expanding, even in the United States. These games are simply a teaser to entice those fans who have become intrigued by the sport to become more interested. It's similar to European soccer teams playing friendlies in the United States, and the popularity of European soccer in America has increased exponentially, although it's highly unlikely the English Premier League will expand to Boston.

"Part of the reason we play these games is to measure the fan enthusiasm," Moggio said. "Five years from now, we want to be continuing to build the fan base so that we can continue to engage our partners in many different ways, so we have more kids playing. And that's how we are going help our business."

Two years ago, the Spurs and Timberwolves were scheduled to play a regular-season game in Mexico City before an arena generator malfunctioned and sent smoke throughout the arena. It would have taken hours for the conditions to become playable, so the game was postponed, evacuated fans were forced to go home, and the teams rescheduled the game for Minneapolis.


In November 2014, the Rockets and Timberwolves matched up in Mexico City; the game was played successfully.

"We have no concerns with the arena," Moggio said. "We work very closely with the promoter to ensure that [2013] never happens again. That's been the focus and we're very confident that's not going to happen."

The NBA fans should get accustomed to these international regular-season contests. Sacramento fans who wanted to see the Celtics will have to wait until next year or make the trip to Mexico. That's a tradeoff the league is willing to make, as long as it can popularize the sport abroad, increase merchandise sales, and expose the sport to a fan base — like many sports fans outside the United States — consumed with soccer.

It's an astute move by the NBA and the next steps perhaps in the next generation would be international expansion. Yet with the salary-cap increase expected to have a monumental effect on the game, expansion is hardly a hot-button issue. So these one-game stops in major international markets will have to do — for now.

Gary Washburn can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.