The Interview - Jesus Bueno, Vice President NBA EMEA and MD NBA Spain
It was a pleasure to interview Jesus Bueno, Vice President at NBA EMEA and MD at NBA Spain. The NBA is one of the most popular and professionalized leagues worldwide, and hence it is a pleasure to deep dive into the interview with Jesus Bueno, who enlights us with the different axis of NBA strategy that has made this possible, and, even more, how they continuously come up with new initiatives of differentiation, such as the Jr NBA and the NFT "TopShot".
You have been exposed to and actively involved in the sports industry from many different angles: as a player, as an executive of a relevant Federation, as investor in sport ventures and since 2010 as VicePresident for EMEA at the NBA. According to your understanding, which are the main trends of the Sports Industry moving forward?
The Sports Industry has rapidly evolved, from a management and professionalism perspective, over the last years. Passion remains, but the approach is changing. The NBA, as the arguably most sophisticated sports entity in the world, is leading the pack. Among the main trends, I would highlight the digital aspect of the sports industry; digital, clearly, is the new trend. But digital means a lot. From Blockchain as a technology to NFTs, digital content, VR/AR, Metaverse, digital distribution of the content on TV, Mobile or tablets, DTC (Direct to consumer) etc. Digital also allows you as well to segment and personalize user experience, camera angles, commentators, graphics, interact with the audience in real-time at the game screens or platforms … as I said… there Is a lot in this space. The view is that we are only scratching the surface. We are going to see much more of what we can even imagine today in the coming years.
NBA is, arguably, one of the Top 3 leagues / competitions in the world, with a global presence and outreach. What are the main axis of the NBA strategy to become so popular, also among the young fans and audience?
We like to think that we love to innovate, be early adopters using the new trends, and have a global view…. Putting the game, fan experiences and our content at the center of everything we do. Back in 2020, and according to a survey undertaken by Morning Consult, asked Gen Z in terms of interest in Sports Properties (such as leagues and competitions) in comparison to General Public, the NBA was one of the few properties that was ranked as high as by Gen Z compared to General Public. All the other sports properties were ranked higher by General Public compared to Gen Z. This means a lot for us, and for the future of the NBA.
Youth is, basically, one of your main targets. One of the activities you, as the NBA, are deploying is the Jr NBA (in Spain, for example, with the collaboration of the Spanish Basketball Federation). Can you elaborate a little bit more about the strategy behind Jr NBA as well as the main activities that are deployed?
Growing the game is a fundamental piece of our mission. 57% of our core fans played the game when they were young. Growing the game is growing fans/ consumers and players. For example, we have over 100 Jr NBA Leagues in Europe in over 80 cities. We are planning to open 40 NBA schools in Europe in the next 4 years, and we have deals to develop the game with over 28 Federations. We are also growing our digital Jr NBA platform with our partner OWQLO to put our Jr NBA activities from offline to online to have more Jr NBA content for kids. OWQLO is building the platform in Europe and Latam and we expanded the rights to India and Africa this season to provide more and better digital experiences to kids and families teaching also the values of our sport.
NFT, Tokens, Metaverse, etc. All of them are interesting concepts based on the use of blockchain technology. The NBA is also active in terms of NFT, having launched “TopShot”, which is perceived as a successful story (especially compared to other NFT initiatives). Having the NBA a wide range of rights is one of the main factors that are enabling the development of the TopShot initiative. Can you elaborate a little bit further about the origin, the objectives and the strategy of the NBA “TopShot”?
If you think the number of things and business we were doing many years ago that today are digital, collecting cards was one of them. Digital allows you to sell globally and scale. Topshot was a development of that in video to own short videos of NBA games. As I said, we love to innovate and we try things… Dappler came up with this idea and we loved it. It went well and we are developing more features on NFTs to keep growing.
The governance of any company / organization (also in the sport industry) is a key component to the success, both on and off-court. What are the main characteristics of the NBA in terms of Governance and the relationship with, mainly, Clubs and Players?
Governance is about taking into account our stakeholders. Clearly, governors, players, or teams are the most important and the core of our business and the internal stakeholders, it is key to be successful to find a way to work together and try to align the vision and plans. FIBA, Media, digital partners, sponsors, and licensing partners are also part of the stakeholders' ecosystem and although they do not make the final decision in our business, we also love to listen and integrate them into our conversations and discuss how we can do better what we do. We are an inclusive organization and if you want to be global, we need to include, listen and learn from everyone. Internally, we also have a group of professionals (TMBO) that are part of the organization and they have the aim to support and advise both, our clubs as well as our sponsors. We clearly think that the more professionalism we can bring together to our ecosystem, the brighter will be the present and the future for everybody, including sponsors, clubs, and players.