Viewers to hear from refs as FIBA targets maximum audience for China's World Cup
By Simon Ward
This year’s Basketball World Cup in China will have significant impact in what is one of the sport’s target growth markets, and there will be innovative television production initiatives to help engage a larger worldwide audience, according to Andreas Zagklis, the secretary general of international governing body FIBA.
The federation is preparing for what will be its biggest-ever tournament in more ways than one, with a nation of 1.4 billion people as host and a record 32 teams, up from 24 for the last edition in Spain in 2014.
There are also hopes that the event will have a greater platform to project itself now that the international calendar has been changed so the tournament takes place in an odd-numbered year, away from the Fifa World Cup and winter Olympic Games, and ahead of the summer Olympics.
China has had four years to prepare for the competition, and as many as 92 games will be played in eight venues between 31 August and 15 September.
It also marks the climax of a new national teams competitions cycle that has entailed qualifying games involving 140 national teams in four windows across the year, at the start of long-term partnerships with DAZN (formerly Perform), the international digital sports content and media group, with regard to broadcasting and streaming, and Wanda Group, the Chinese property and entertainment giant, on the marketing side.
In a roundtable briefing with journalists in London, Zagklis said: “We expect this to be the biggest [World Cup] ever, in the sense that we have expanded the roster of teams from 24 to 32, and we’re playing in the biggest country in the world [by population]. So there is this size factor and at times even we are a little bit awed at how big the event will be and how the big interest will be.”
The Greek official, who succeeded the late Patrick Baumann as FIBA secretary general last December, also claimed that the expansion of the tournament and the new 17-month qualifying competition had helped to build momentum.
He said: “Everybody started talking about the World Cup back in 2017. In [that] November we finished the continentals [championships] and immediately we went into World Cup mode. And we have been talking about this World Cup and created excitement through a qualification process that went through six windows…
“I do believe we will see a very high level of basketball on the court, and we will attract both on the court and on the screen audiences like never before.”
Pressed on the level of interest in China, Zagklis said: “This is a country that likes basketball and likes basketball not only when their own national team is playing so in the venues we’re very optimistic about ticket sales, and the first signs are indeed very encouraging.”
Large TV and digital audiences are also expected given the long-term deals in place with CCTV, the Chinese state broadcaster, and Tencent, the country’s internet giant, both running to 2025 and brokered by FIBA Media, the joint venture overseen by the federation and DAZN in their 17-year, €500-million ($560-million) tie-up
CCTV is working with FIBA on the production and delivery of this year’s World Cup, and Zagklis claimed viewers will benefit from new insights, including audio of referees during live games.
He said: “I do believe that we will attract audiences like never before and this is not only because of China, and CCTV. This is also because we will do in the production a few things and innovations that were never done before. We intend to activate the microphone on the referee in certain moments of the game. This will give our audience, and not only the audience that is well-versed in basketball, more understanding.”
The move follows tests of referee microphones during last year’s Women’s Basketball World Cup in Tenerife, Spain.
Zagklis continued: “I believe that in certain moments, especially in the [use of] instant replay, where the referee goes in front of the screen on the officials table and checks, and might say, ‘can you please rewind, I want to see if the ball touched the leg of Team USA player number six'. This is very important for us because they [the audience] can understand what is going on on the field of play. Personally I believe that the power of sound in this moment is incredible.”
In a year that is also featuring World Cups in sports such as cricket and rugby union, and a World Athletics Championships, the FIBA chief is sure the basketball showpiece will have a major international impact, saying: “We are a global game. That is why we have a World Cup of 32 countries. And when I say global game, I mean it. We have excellent teams on all five continents.
“We do believe at global level this is, if not the sporting event, one of the sporting events of the year, and the only question is for us to deliver that, and we are very, very confident that we’re going to deliver.”
On whether the tournament was now fulfilling its potential, Zagklis said: “It’s difficult to say a month and a half before the World Cup. I think we will be wiser in October and November. So far I can say our partners both on the commercial and the marketing and media side have really believed in the reshaping of our competitions. The regularity that the qualifiers offer is very important.
“We have not seen a World Cup in the new era so it’s difficult to say. [But] all the signs are positive and are there.”
Aeroflot, the Russian airline, was this week named as the latest global partner of FIBA, and a sponsor of this year’s Basketball World Cup, with presenting partnership rights for the inaugural Trophy Tour that is preceding the tournament.
Chinese development More than a decade on from the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games that were meant to be a watershed moment in the development of Chinese sport, the progress of basketball has arguably been slower than anticipated, with the men’s national team currently ranked 30th in the world, and the CBA league not producing players of the pedigree of former NBA and international star Yao Ming.
However, Zagklis believes that growth is afoot, especially with Yao (pictured, central) having been elected president of the Chinese Basketball Association in February 2017.
The FIBA secretary general said: “I think the level of popularity is there. [On] the level of talent and the level of top talent I would say we are getting there. Any why I’m saying we’re getting there is because I have seen several changes happening in the last few years, which are all positive. We have seen the biggest ever star of the country in basketball taking over the reins of the federation, and of the league at the same time.
“It is a league that is stronger, I would say much stronger, than it was 10 years ago. Has this league produced as many top level Chinese players as maybe someone would have expected in 2008? I would say let's wait for the World Cup because we cannot pass judgement before this team performs at home in front of its audience against the 31 other best national teams in the world.
“I have already in the seven months that I have been in office had at least four encounters and very good discussions with Yao and I believe he has analysed well the situation and where the opportunities lie in the country. So I do believe that we will see in the next few years the CBA growing even more. And when I say growing I mean not only being a good product per se but also being a good vehicle of development for the best Chinese players.
“We will offer a lot of support there, not only through the FIBA Academy, which is making its first steps now, but also a number of programmes and clinics that we have agreed with the CBA. What I said to them in my first formal visit is ‘we’re not here to just deliver the World Cup and on 16 September we go home, we’re here to stay’.”
FIBA has shown its commitment to China by pledging to maintain the present office in Beijing, with its own staff, as part of the legacy programme of the tournament.
This will complement FIBA’s Asia headquarters in the Lebanese capital Beirut and another base in Singapore, and reflects the importance of the Far East market to basketball, with the 2020 Olympic Games to be held in Tokyo, and the World Cup returning to the region in 2023 when The Philippines, Japan and Indonesia will stage the first-ever co-hosted edition.