By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A golden period awaits the National Basketball Association (NBA) with global interest and business opportunities growing, the man set to replace Commissioner David Stern, said on Thursday.
Adam Silver, who will replace Stern when the NBA's longest-serving commissioner steps down next February, considers China key to the league's growth potential and likes the idea of one day having team based outside the United States.
"I'm excited about the opportunity ahead," Silver told Reuters after a news conference to announce that ESPN and the WNBA extended an agreement to televise the women's league by six years through 2022.
Silver, who joined NBA management 20 years ago, worked on the original WNBA business plan and said he was "thrilled" by the TV deal and predicted the pieces were in place "to take the league to the next level."
The quiet, bespectacled executive, who has largely labored in the background while the autocratic Stern steered the NBA, was even more animated on the strides he believed the NBA would make.
"I'm incredibly excited about the opportunity I have with the NBA, which is also poised for not just another chapter in its growth but I think is prepared to take another leap in popularity, especially outside the United States," said Silver.
NBA teams based overseas was something Silver envisioned for the future, but said it was too early to predict when.
"Initially the growth is going to come from digital media," said Silver. "For example, I was in Beijing and Shanghai last week meeting with our media partners there. We currently have 55 million followers of the NBA on social media platforms in China.
"We're now in the 26th year of a partnership with CCTV in China and have a very healthy slate of sponsors there.
"Probably most important for the long term growth for the NBA, participation levels continue to increase among the Chinese youth, both boys and girls. Right now it's our second largest market. But who knows in a country of 1.3 billion what the opportunities will ultimately be?"
Silver, 50, said Stern was planning a trip to India next month. "Another country of over a billion people with a young population that loves basketball."
He said the NBA is working with Brooklyn Nets Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov and the Russian government to further grow basketball there as well as projects to develop the game more on the continent of Africa.
Silver said he believed establishing teams outside the United States was part of the NBA's future, but remained in the conceptual stage.
"When we do expand, we'd need to expand probably with multiple teams, so that you wouldn't have an orphan team in Europe, but that you'd potentially have a division so those teams could play each other more often and NBA teams presumably traveling in Europe could have more teams to play when they're over there," said Silver.
"It's still a concept, but I'm comfortable with it."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)