EA, NBA cosponsor Europe Live

Publisher strengthens ties with pro basketball league, dips feet in growing international basketball market; NBA teams to meet Euroleague squads in preseason play.

Earlier this year, the NBA reportedly rejected attempts from game publishers to acquire exclusive rights to develop games with the NBA brand. After Electronic Arts acquired the National Football League and Arena Football League rights (it later attained the license to NCAA Football), and Take-Two Interactive got third-party publishing rights to Major League Baseball, many thought the NBA would be the next to fall.

Though it didn't gain exclusivity with the NBA, EA did the next best thing. The two, along with European basketball league Euroleague, today announced NBA Europe Live presented by EA Sports. The partnership sends four NBA teams to Europe to compete against Euroleague teams during the NBA preseason in October. As part of its role as a partner, EA will help the NBA establish interactive basketball programs around the world.

"This is the NBA's most ambitious European basketball competition," said NBA commissioner David Stern. "NBA Europe Live will exemplify how sports leagues around the world can work together for the long-term growth of their sport. As the relevance of basketball continues to grow globally, the NBA and EA Sports share a vision that delivers basketball, entertainment, music and technology to our fans around the world."

With the proliferation of international basketball talent growing in its ranks, the National Basketball Association may want to rethink its name. Of the major professional sports in the US, none has seen its international talent pool grow as exponentially as the NBA's. Williams, Jones, and Smith are quickly becoming replaced on the backs of jerseys with names like Nowitzki, Yao, and Gasol.

The San Antonio Spurs, currently holding a two-games-to-none lead over the defending champion Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals (Game 3 is tonight), are a clear example of the shift that's crossing over faster than Steve Francis. Their roster looks more like an international school than kids homegrown in the Big East or ACC. Two-time MVP Tim Duncan hails from the Virgin Islands. Point guard Tony Parker played ball in France and was born in Belgium. Whirlwind shooting guard Manu Ginobili learned to dribble in Argentina before playing professionally in Italy. Reserves Beno Udrih and Rasho Nesterovic are from Slovenia.

Amid a declining reputation for "thugdom" and disrespect, the NBA and commissioner David Stern know the future of the league may rely on some outside help--specifically from abroad. And as the NBA continues to grow in popularity outside the United States, so will its brand and properties, such as apparel, equipment, and licensed games.

EA's involvement with the NBA as a global marketing partner allows the company to ride the growing wave of basketball popularity, and puts EA in prime position to tap into the European marketplace.

Apparently, Wall Street thinks so, too. Reports of the announcement helped EA's stock (ERTS) rise more than four points on Monday, from just under $54 to over $58. As of press time, shares are trading at $57.40.

"Like sports, video games have a global appeal that transcends language and borders," said Electronic Arts chairman and CEO Larry Probst. "At EA, we're proud to be an ambassador for one of the world's most exciting sports, NBA Basketball."

EA, along with publishers Midway Games, Sony, Take-Two, and Atari, signed five- or six-year deals with the NBA in March for licensing rights. EA currently uses the license in its NBA Live and NBA Street series. If EA hopes to gain an edge on gaining NBA exclusivity, it'll have to wait until at least the end of the decade.

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