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NBA expands global reach with massive deal with Rakuten

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Sports Pulse: During his trip to China, USA TODAY Sports’ Sam Amick discusses the possibility of the NBA expanding to the most populous country in the world.
USA TODAY Sports

The NBA’s global reach is set to grow yet again on Tuesday morning in Tokyo, where commissioner Adam Silver and Rakuten CEO Hiroshi “Mickey” Mikitani are set to announce a massive multiyear partnership at the headquarters of the prominent tech company.

According to a person with knowledge of the agreement, the NBA will be paid more than $225 million during the life of the contract. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because terms are not typically disclosed.

Rakuten, which has more than 900 million users and has been in the top 30 of Forbes’ “Most Innovative Companies” since 2012, will not only become the NBA’s exclusive distribution partner in Japan for all live games, but also joins the league’s list of global marketing partners. This marks the NBA’s most comprehensive media partnership yet in Japan, where fans will watch games through NBA.com, the NBA App and Rakuten TV by way of NBA League Pass (including the All-Star game, playoff games, the conference finals and the NBA Finals). As part of the marketing component of the deal, Rakuten will sell select NBA and team merchandise globally on its e-commerce channels.

“Rakuten is one of the world’s most innovative companies and an ideal partner for the NBA,” Silver said in a statement after the deal was officially announced. “Our new relationship with Rakuten speaks to the appetite that our passionate fans in Japan have for live NBA games and content, and we look forward to working with Rakuten to provide the most comprehensive NBA coverage to date.”

For Rakuten — which agreed to a deal with the famed soccer club, FC Barcelona, worth a reported $235 million in November and cut a jersey patch deal with the Golden State Warriors in September that cost a reported $20 million annually — this marks the first deal they have done with a North American sports league. 

“We want to be a household name like Google and Facebook,” Mikitani told ESPN in early September about the deal with the Warriors. “Our partnership in Barcelona has helped us in Spain, and the Warriors will certainly be a pillar of getting us there in United States.”

And now, it’s on to bigger and better things with the NBA itself.

For Silver’s part, there’s a synergy on this trip to the Far East that is impossible to miss. Just two days prior to the forthcoming Rakuten announcement, he attended the China Games finale between the Warriors and Minnesota Timberwolves in Shanghai that showcased the league’s growth in those parts. The objective remains the same in Japan, where NBA games have been on the air since the 1988-89 season and there have been 12 regular season games played in all: Integrate the NBA even more into local culture through as many mainstream channels as possible, and make a pretty penny along the way.

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Sam Amick on Twitter @Sam_Amick

 

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