In People

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with NBA

LesleyRulloda_045

Recently, we have seen the proliferation of cross-brand collaborations and among the latest ones, one brand has come up with very diverse types of collaborations.

Some of their recent collaborations have included:  Maison Kitsune, Supreme, BAPE XXV, Elder Statesman, Zara, and Forever 21. In a way, more and more sports blend together into a product able to bridge the two communities and reach out to a new set of consumers.

The NBA is a global sports and media business built around four professional sports leagues: the National Basketball Association, the Women’s National Basketball Association, the NBA G League, and the NBA 2K League.

The NBA has established a major international presence with games and programming in 215 countries and territories in 50 languages, and merchandise for sale in more than 100,000 retail locations in over 120 countries on six continents.

NBA rosters at the start of the 2018-19 season featured 108 international players from 42 countries and territories. NBA Digital’s assets include NBA TV, NBA.com, the NBA App and NBA League Pass.

Retail in Asia had the pleasure to interview Lesley Rulloda, Head of Global Merchandising for NBA Asia. Lesley has been at NBA for over 8 years overseeing the retail and merchandising side of the business. She told us more about NBA,  the nature of the business, its current status in Asia and plans for development.

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RiA: NBA and Asia, what’s the current status?

Lesley: The NBA has had an office in Asia for more than 20 years. This office in Hong Kong, in particular, focuses on the business within Asia Pacific, minus China and India, although we are very aligned with what is going on in those markets as well.

I oversee the merchandising and licensing business for Asia Pacific, so we work closely with our licensees who create products for us, as well as the retailers in the market to help support that product and get merchandise into our fans’ hands within the region.

Additionally,  I oversee mobile gaming, which is also big part of our business.

Soccer is a very popular sport, however basketball is growing rapidly internationally, and there is a lot of room for us to continue to grow our business.

RiA: Your business is split into media and merchandising, can you differentiate what’s the current status of coverage and consumption for both sides of the business in this region? 

Lesley: In terms of content consumption, one of our big focuses is delivering localized content to fans, so partnering with local media companies is important to help deliver that experience.

We have broadcast and content partners throughout the region, including Rakuten, one of the top companies in Japan, Emtek in Indonesia, and Mono in Thailand.

We do this with all our different partners, creating localized content that engages with our fans and there are different ways we do that.

NBA league pass
Source: NBA

We do that through teaching people how to watch the game because we know that is something we need to educate people on, but it is also engaging the fans in the local commentary of the games themselves.

On the merchandising side, we work with our local licensees and retail partners trying to get the most merchandise out possible for the fans and trying to do it faster and faster.

We had a lot of player movement that has happened over the summer, so we worked with our licensees to make sure that when the season starts, we have the right products in the market.

RiA: You talked a lot about localization of content, in which way do you localize the brand?

Lesley:  We localize the brand in terms of content through partnering with our local broadcast partners as well as mobile/telco service providers.

Let’s say someone wants to purchase their league pass on their mobile device. They can do that through their local mobile service provider whom they are already subscribed with, so integrating the NBA in a path where the consumer already is.

On the merchandising side, Hansae MK is a great example. They are one of our Korean licensees and they have more than NBA 130 shops in Korea, and they do a lot of interesting things with our IP that are in line with fashion trends that are relevant to the Korean market.

RiA: Can you tell us more about the NBA gaming?

Lesley: We work with companies like Take-Two, which produces our NBA 2K game, and Electronic Arts (EA), who produces NBA Live for us as well. We were also the first North American sports league to launch a professional e-sports league, the NBA 2K league.

NBA 2K League
Source: NBA

Last season, we had 21 out of our 30 teams be part of this e-sports league. If you think about the Lakers, for example, they have their professional e-sports team as a subset of the actual Lakers team, and it competes within the 2K League.

We had one player drafted from the Asia Pacific region into the 2K League. The Pistons GT (Detroit Pistons’ 2K League team) drafted a New Zealand professional player to play in the league. We also have a partnership with Twitch to distribute 2K League games and content.

RiA: Who are your customers, and eventually your fans, that can turn into your consumers, either for content or merchandising?

Lesley: Our fanbase is not homogeneous, but I would say NBA fans are predominantly young, fashion-conscious, tech-savvy fans who are active on social media.

We have built one of the largest social media communities in the world with more than 1 and a half billion likes and followers globally across all league, team and player platforms, and we actually have 20M followers from Asia across the league’s global and local social media platforms.

We are also working with local influencers to connect with our fans – this season alone in Southeast Asia, we have reached more than 35 million people through influencers to deepen our connection with fans.

RiA: Following on the healthy lifestyle trend, we have seen an increase in the investment of activities to boost sports practice, or active lifestyle, among young people. How do you leverage on this in Asia?

Lesley: Promoting healthy and active lifestyles is also a top priority for us in Asia Pacific. We have the Jr. NBA programme that we are running in six countries across Asia Pacific (Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam).

Jr. NBA is our global youth development program that teaches the fundamental skills as well as the core values of the game to encourage healthy and active lifestyles. We designed Jr. NBA to specifically address a critical and growing epidemic: childhood obesity and increased inactivity amongst youth.

NBA game
Source: NBA

The program puts basketballs into the hands of kids – almost 20 million boys and girls across Southeast Asia so far – and encourages them to participate in physical activity through a sport that is both fun and easy to pick up and play. We also donate equipment and train teachers to establish standards for how the game should be played and coached.

What we are doing with Jr. NBA is we are working with parents, working with governments, working with schools, to try to get an NBA basketball curriculum into the schools. And really teach kids how to play the game of basketball, and really get them active and on their feet.

RiA: As our readers are professionals working in retail, we have discussed the content part, the sports part, about the merchandising, what is the strongest market and what’s next? 

Lesley: Right now NBA merchandise can be found in over 500 doors throughout Asia. In Japan, for example, we work with Xebio to have NBA merchandise close to  200 stores nationwide.

In Australia, we work with Rebel and Foot Locker. And in the Philippines, which is a key market with 99% NBA awareness, we are in over a hundred doors but we are looking to expand that to almost a thousand. Korea is also really strong because we have a strong partner doing a lot of merchandise localization, as we mentioned, with Hansae MK.

We are really looking at new opportunities for growth that we are still uncovering, and we are really excited about what is in store for us.

I would also say e-commerce is also an area of growth for retail distribution. We partnered with Fanatics, the global e-commerce leader in sports merchandise. They work with all the major sports leagues in the US, and they operate our e-commerce sites here in Asia. With the Fanatics partnership, we have 10 NBA online stores in Asia.

Indonesia is an important strategic market for us and for a lot of companies in the world, but a crucial market for us considering the rising popularity of basketball.

We work with Blibli in Indonesia, who is an industry leader in e-commerce in the country and operate our official online store, NBAStoreco.id.

RiA: What are the digital marketing strategies that you use to reach out to your customers?

Lesley: On the social media front, we have localized NBA accounts in four countries, Indonesia, Australia, Philippines, and Japan.

We also have local Jr. NBA Facebook pages in all six countries where Jr. NBA is currently operating in. In fact, we recently crossed a major milestone, amassing more than 2M fans following our local Jr. NBA Facebook pages. We have nearly 20M followers from Asia across the league’s global and local social media platforms.

We view Asia as the next frontier. Our business is already in a good state, but there is still a lot more potential for growth.

RiA: Being in this position [Head of global merchandising for NBA Asia], are you a basketball fan?

Lesley: I love sports. I have grown up with sports. I grew up watching American football, but since I joined the NBA, basketball has definitely become the sport I watch the most.

RiA: The NBA is pretty much seen as a male industry and you hold a leadership position, so which one is your one career advice in this industry?

Lesley: What was key for me was that I never see boundaries. I knew where I wanted to go as a person within my career, I just kept forging ahead.

One of the great things about working at the NBA is that we embrace diversity.

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You should also do what is right for your career and not limit yourself.

I feel proud of working at the NBA as everyday we find ways to contribute to a better world. Through NBA Cares, the league addresses important social issues by working with internationally recognized youth-serving organizations that support education, youth and family development, and health-related causes.

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