TOKYO (AP) – Japanese basketball fans will get to see NBA stars up close when the reigning league-champion Golden State Warriors take on the Washington Wizards in two preseason games.
Not surprisingly, Stephen Curry and Japanese-born Rui Hachimura will be the star attractions for each team.
And as clearly as the logo of Japanese online retailer Rakuten is splashed on Curry’s jersey, big money is riding on the NBA’s most recent foray into Japan.
Senior manager at automaker Nissan’s brand and media strategy department Junya Ogura thinks it’s worth it, given the NBA’s strong appeal to the younger generation, a trend backed up by marketing studies.
Nissan Motor Co had a high-profile deal with tennis superstar Naomi Osaka which recently ended. This is the first time it’s sponsoring NBA games.
The tickets cost up to JPY420,000 (USD2,900) each for courtside “VIP” seats. Both games are sold out at the Saitama Super Arena.
“These are the Japanese people who grew up on Michael Jordan,” said Ogura. “We are banking on a return in the future.”
The NBA has drawn 15 marketing partners to support the preseason games in Japan, including American Express, NEC and Nike, and now has 19 marketing and promotional partners in Japan.
Rakuten, which also sponsors Japanese sports and holds the Japan Open tennis championships, live-streams NBA games.
“Obviously it’s about the money,” said San Francisco-based sports analyst at Pinnacle Advertising Bob Dorfman.
“Building the fan base in Asia, and everywhere else in the world, results in more sponsorship dollars, increased media rights and greater merchandise sales.”
The NBA may have more global appeal than other American sports, being easier to understand than American football, for instance, according to Dorfman.
“Every team has foreign-born players on their rosters, and the league’s top stars are cultural icons, trendsetters, and social media giants,” he said.
That translates not only into sponsorship money but also youngsters spending on sneakers and merchandising.
Between 1990 and 2003, the NBA staged 12 regular-season games in Japan. The last time was in 2019, when Houston and Toronto played a pre-season game.
The coronavirus pandemic had postponed their return to Japan until now.
And so the NBA is again courting Japan.