Global audiences gather to watch television for two reasons: huge news stories and sporting events. News is hard to predict and usually gloomy not the sort of thing you can use to shift product. Sport, on the other hand, may be the best advertising vehicle ever invented. It fills hours of television time, invokes passion and loyalty that scripted TV shows only dream about and has built-in drama without having to worry about striking writers. All that, plus you can place billboards around the grandstands, paint slogans on the fields and plaster the players with logos. Sport, marketers long ago realized, is the perfect synthesis of money and motion.
But there's one problem. While the most globalized events the Olympics, football's World Cup can attract cumulative audiences larger than our planet's population, they only come around every four years. As commerce and tastes become more global, sports bosses are inevitably looking for ways to attract worldwide audiences on a regular basis. That was the thinking behind the recently revealed plan by the English Premier League to start holding an extra weekend's worth of soccer games in five cities outside England. It has motivated cricket's new multibillion-dollar league that has attracted some of the best players to new teams in India. And it lies behind the push by American sports such as football and basketball into new markets. It would be no surprise if within 10 years there were National Basketball Association franchises in cities outside the U.S and Canada.
Of course, sport long ago outgrew exclusively local ties just ask a Liverpool supporter in Japan or a Chicago Bulls nut in Nigeria. But international leagues will make the local even more global by giving traditional clubs and teams a permanent worldwide stage and making each franchise truly international. It takes a village to raise a child, goes the African proverb. In sport, it takes a village club, satellite television and a big star or two to raise huge profits.
As in other industries, the key frontier is Asia, in particular China and India. Basketball has already made inroads into the world's most populous nation and now thank you, Yao Ming rivals soccer and table tennis as the country's most popular sport. Cricket is already big in India, and football and basketball are both eyeing the country. One key to success: make sure the sport reflects aspirations of the markets into which you want to expand. Just as for any other product, globalization does not mean that consumers everywhere want exactly the same thing. As if to make the point, the new Indian cricket league will feature not the genteel game inherited from England, but a new supershort version that's much closer to the new India: brash, exciting but perhaps promising a bit more than it can yet deliver.
Purists may moan, but there's no stopping the revolution. If the fans are cheering not just in one village, but in pubs and living rooms and stadiums around the world, so be it. The rebirth of the Olympics 112 years ago was sold as a chance to use sport to unite the world in peaceful and healthy pursuits. Who said that couldn't include the pursuit of healthy earnings?