If an international basketball competition takes place in Spain, and no one covers it, did it really happen? The FIBA World Cup is happening right now, yet it has been lost in all the hoopla surrounding the start of college football and the NFL. FIBA World Cup coverage has been almost completely non-existent when compared to FIFA World Cup coverage. The lack of coverage could have far reaching implications on the future of international basketball.
The same company that broadcast the FIFA World Cup is also showing the FIBA World Cup. ESPN covered the FIFA World Cup from every angle. There were multiple announcing crews on site, a post-game show with leading ESPN personalities such as Bob Ley, and coverage on SportsCenter and ESPN.com.
ESPN didn’t even bother sending a crew to announce the games in Spain. Instead, announcers are working remotely from the U.S., and coverage has been limited mostly to ESPN2. Exposure has been extremely limited, and it can’t just be blamed on lack of star power. Household names such as Pau Gasol and Derrick Rose are playing in the tournament. Solid NBA role players including Luis Scola, Pablo Prigioni, and Tiago Splitter are representing their home countries. Recent draftees and international prospects such as Dante Exum and Dario Saric are getting their first exposure to this type of competition. Yet, only the true basketball junkies seem to be paying attention.
This lack of coverage could create multiple issues. Why would NBA teams want salaried employees to risk injury if there is no return? Normally, getting the game of basketball greater exposure is enough justification. If coverage is limited, that isn’t happening. The chance to turn the casual fan into a regular viewer (as the FIFA World Cup may have done) is gone.
Mark Cuban even brought up the idea that the NBA and its teams should be benefiting from its players competing in international games. Right now the teams are taking on a lot of risk by letting players represent their countries, and reaping a minimal reward.
The players risk injury without a return as well. With the lack of coverage, young players lose the chance to make a name of themselves. They can’t expand their personal brand if no one is watching. Anthony Davis may be primed to make the proverbial leap in the NBA, but the FIBA World Cup isn’t helping him gain recognition or exposure.
This doesn’t even take into account the chance of injury. Kevin Love pulled out when his name popped up in trade rumors. The speculation: he didn’t want to take the chance of a trade not being completed due to an accident on the court while playing for Team U.S.A.. The most coverage this U.S. National Team has received was Paul George’s gruesome leg injury. That probably doesn’t motivate players to sign up.
Finally, the NBA loses out. ESPN is a distribution partner with the NBA, and it isn’t helping to further the game with this coverage. If Demar DeRozan plays an outstanding game for Team U.S.A. and it is covered by ESPN, fans may want to tune into a nationally televised Raptors game. That isn’t going to happen with the current level of coverage.
FIBA is trying to expand the reach of its international tournament, which is probably one of the reasons the name changed from the FIBA World Championship to the FIBA World Cup. Unless the world wide leader increases coverage of the tournament, it could be an uphill battle.