On November 9th, the NBA will play its 32nd game in Mexico, when the Orlando Magic and Atlanta are set to square off in Mexico City, aptly titled The NBA Mexico City Game 2023.
The NBA’s relationship with Mexico has been long noted, as the G-League have representation there in form of Capitanes de Ciudad de México, also known as the Mexico City Captains, and the league has a dedicated regional office in Mexico City.
It’s no coincidence that the NBA is looking to establish an even larger foothold in the region, as viewership on ESPN in Mexico, during the 2022-2023 season, increased by 25% year-over-year, and ranks in the Top 10 of all international markets in NBA League Pass subscriptions.
According to the NBA, social media interactions across all NBA Mexico accounts, has seen a 90% increase (which includes likes, shares and comments) during the 2022-23 season, compared to the previous season, to the extent of 91 million.
Leading up to the game, Alex Martins, CEO of the Magic, participated in a brief Q-&-A with me about the overall event.
By going to Mexico during the season, what benefits do you find in terms of chemistry and player bonding?
“We have found that taking international trips such as these certainly can prove beneficial for the team from a chemistry standpoint in that the team is able to experience different parts of the world together. Playing international games and having a chance to connect with fans in another country is just a great experience. Teams have another great chance to come together when they are sharing experiences away from home.”
Needless to say, both franchises will maintain a primary focus on actual basketball – as opposed to the promotional aspect of the game – to optimize their respective seasons. But if we were to focus a bit on promotion, exposure, and the overall fan experience, how much does it mean to you, and your franchise at large, to be represented in an international game?
“With the Magic having been to London twice, Japan, China, Brazil and Mexico City previously, we love representing the NBA and City of Orlando in these Global Games. We’ve had the opportunity to be in Mexico City before, and we know the passion of the fans. With Orlando being a global destination we have been able to capitalize on that by bringing fans from around the world to our games, while visiting Orlando. In fact, we send members of our ticket sales team to other countries to work with tour operators to make the Orlando Magic an option when coming to visit the likes of Disney and Central Florida. Nothing, however, beats taking our game into these other countries, which gives us the opportunity to spread our brand globally.”
Going all the way back to the 80’s, David Stern had a vision of making the NBA more global. It’s fair to say he succeeded. What are the larger benefits, seen from a sports franchise, that interest is everywhere now?
“David Stern’s vision in making the NBA more global has been a resounding success. You can see it today with 120-plus players on NBA rosters from different countries. The Orlando Magic specifically has a great melting pot of players in Franz and Mo Wagner from Germany, Goga Bitazde from Georgia, Joe Ingles from Australia, Caleb Houstan from Canada and Paolo Banchero having heritage in Italy. It’s amazing to have seen the growth and how we can use the sport of basketball to bring the world together.”
Former NBA All-Star, and current President of the G-League, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, also agreed to a Q-&-A about the relationship between the league and Mexico, citing new learnings over the past few seasons.
The G League has now had a stable presence in Mexico for two years. What have you learned during that time, in terms of fan interest and traits?
Our league’s presence in Mexico has been incredible. The fan support has been remarkable and created one of the most unique environments in our league. Capitanes’ home opener last season saw over 7,000 fans in attendance to cheer on the team, and the vibrant basketball experience at these home games shows how enthusiastic fans in Mexico City are when it comes to supporting their team. Overall, it’s been overwhelmingly positive, and we couldn’t be more excited to see what the future holds.
How has the G League approached culture change, specifically to make the product more appealing to a Mexican audience?
There is so much momentum around basketball in Mexico and Latin America and the G League is proud to be a part of that. We strategically scheduled Capitanes to host the Osceola Magic this Friday, Nov. 10, alongside The NBA Mexico City Game 2023, creating a week-long celebration of basketball in the country. Also, Capitanes recently signed Juan Toscano-Anderson which drew massive levels of enthusiasm and fanfare from the local community. Toscano-Anderson’s Mexican heritage has driven interest and connected with fans in Mexico, creating additional excitement around the team.
While I understand no official comment can be made in regards to NBA expansion, it’s fair to note that Mexico has been brought up by fans as a country to place an NBA franchise, given the presence of the Raptors in Canada. As a former player, who played in Canada during your career, you had a front row seat to seeing how international fans respond to the NBA’s presence. Could Mexico carry a fully-fledged NBA franchise, in your opinion?
While I can’t speak on NBA expansion, I can say the G League experience in Mexico City has been really positive. The NBA and the G League are committed to growing Mexico’s basketball ecosystem at all levels and Capitanes joining the G League has been a significant step toward reaching that goal. As NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum has said before, having Capitanes in the G League provides the NBA with information about how tenable it would be to have an NBA team in Mexico.
With the NBA leaning into both games on foreign soil, as well as implementing a cup system, could we see the G League one day create a major isolated tournament hosted in Mexico City to create additional interest?
A tournament in Mexico could be a great moment for the G League and basketball fans around the globe, it’s not something we’re focused on now at the league level, but we’ve had teams communicate interest in doing something in Mexico, so maybe that is something that we will look at. We’re excited to continue to grow the game of basketball in Mexico while connecting with the amazing fans there.