Nicolas Bermond (BBA 2005), Global Media Distribution Director at the NBA

Published on 23/11/2020
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The National Basketball Association (NBA) has established itself as one of the pillars of the international sports market by extending its programme of events, its broadcasting and its presence to 215 countries. Just a few weeks from the beginning of the 2020–2021 season, Nicolas Bermond (EDHEC International BBA 2005) talks to us about his passion and now his profession: for more than 12 years he has been working from London for this American institution. He currently serves as Director of Global Media Distribution, and here he tells us how from a young age he was eager to discover new places, as well as the multicultural dimension of his daily working life and the new media trends in sport.


How would you summarise your current position and responsibilities?

I joined the NBA in 2008 as it was moving its offices from Paris to London. The London office represents businesses in Europe, the Middle East and Africa – where we also have an office – with around 60 people working in different departments like media, marketing & partnerships, merchandising and events. I’m the director of the media department, with a staff of seven. I manage our TV and digital partnerships in Europe and the Middle East. In particular, I’m responsible for our 8 most important markets in Europe and the Middle East, which alone represent more than half of the London office’s revenue. My media team includes people in charge of selling and negotiating rights, and revising the contracts we have with all our broadcasters. And once the contracts have been drawn up, I work with these partners on a daily basis to ensure that the NBA brand has as much visibility as possible and is depicted favourably on the various TV channels as well as all other digital platforms. Naturally that involves broadcasting games live, marketing campaigns an events division that is usually very busy – like for the game in Paris last January at the AccorHotels Arena, which sold out in less than a quarter of an hour –, but of course has been less so since COVID... Ultimately my position involves many different areas with a real focus on media partnerships, whether TV-based or digital.

You have chosen England for your career. Would you have gone to the NBA if the offices had stayed in Paris?

Good question! Opening up internationally is an integral part of EDHEC’s DNA and it was something I wanted: you learn a lot about yourself, you create your own experiences. I had done an exchange in Newcastle in my third year on the EDHEC International BBA programme, and that’s what gave me the desire to travel again once my studies were finished. Initially I really wanted to perfect my English and go to the US, a love affair that emerged from my passion for basketball. But I was confronted with the harsh reality of obtaining a visa and finding work there … So I fell back on London with the idea of staying 3-4 years to get some experience abroad, before coming back to France. And 12 years later I’m still here! I have a British passport, an English wife and an English child! To be honest, if I had been offered a position in Paris when I graduated, I would never have been able to refuse such an opportunity. I really like the English mentality, and it’s been an enjoyable experience. But I still see myself returning to the Côte d’Azur – where I’m from – at some point.

Does seeing behind the scenes at the NBA give you a different perspective on your passion for the sport?

It really is a passion of mine, I’ve always wanted to work in sport. When I was in secondary school, we were asked to write a report on what we wanted to do later in life, and I remember writing “sports marketing”. Every career is strewn with obstacles, you have to persevere to achieve your goals. I’m still a basketball fan, I still consume the NBA 24/7, but of course it’s different when you have a professional viewpoint! I had attended several games before joining the NBA, but I never really appreciated all the work upstream and the staff needed for a 3-hour show, like the game in Paris in January. These are events that are prepared months and months in advance, all the more so because the NBA is very perfectionist, so there’s no margin for error. In any case I’m surrounded by highly professional and talented colleagues, so the results are often very satisfactory. I have the good fortune to work with almost all the different departments at the office, on highly varied missions, with new projects at least each season, so I’m constantly learning new things. It’s a good thing too, because I’ve been with the NBA for nearly 12 years!

You work on the Western European and African markets. Have you noticed local specificities in your business depending on the different areas with which you work?

Overall, as you might expect, the trend is towards media consumption increasingly being done on digital platforms to the detriment of the good old-fashioned TV. But you do find specific developments in some regions, like Asia, where people consume more than half of content on mobile platforms. Each partner nation is different, though, and so the approach adopted differs to reflect each specificity. I also think there is a demographic dimension to take into account: consumption methods generally differ depending on age. So you would definitely adopt a different strategy if targeting generation Z rather than boomers or generation X.

Is the NBA staff team in London mainly made up of Anglophones or people with completely international profiles? What’s the advantage to being French at the NBA?

The number 1 advantage to being French is that we are world champions so I can tease my colleagues when I arrive at the office [laughs]! The NBA hires a huge number of foreign nationals, so for example at the London office around 10 of us are from France. When you’re abroad, it’s always a plus to be able to speak another language, particularly if you cover all those countries. We’re putting great effort into localising our product in each country, so it’s important to have a melting pot of profiles so we can better visualise their needs depending on the regions and cultures.

What strategy did the NBA, which is very American, use to conquer the planet, particularly those countries that don’t have a basketball culture?

It’s true that the NBA is now a global phenomenon, with a reach that extends to all continents, compared to other sports like football – which has a weaker presence in the US – or American football, which you see much less in Europe or Asia. There are 4 major factors as I see it:

  • Content: there are matches every evening, so there are stories to tell every evening. We have a huge amount of content available on TV, on digital platforms and social media, and we feel it’s important for that to remain acessible to everyone.
  • Games being broadcast internationally: it was our former boss (“Commissioner”) David Stern – who sadly died at the beginning of the year – who, from the 80s onwards, achieved a great deal to export our product internationally.
  • The relocation of NBA games, from the US to other continents such as Asia, Europe or Africa. We also saw the Barcelona effect in 1992 (NDLR, the Dream Team at the Olympics): indeed that’s where it all started for me as a fan. And it was what allowed American basketball to develop a global audience with superstars like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson or Larry Bird. This is exactly when the basketball “boom” happened across the world.
  • The considerable increase in the number of international athletes who go to play for the NBA: they’re now playing in the best league in the world and have a huge impact in their home countries. Look at Tony Parker, for example, or the Gasol brothers in Spain, who have enabled the NBA brand to thrive constantly even at a local level.

In the US cinema also has a kind of soft power that generates a lot of visibility, doesn’t it? I’m thinking for example of Space Jam in the 90s …

A lot of people, particularly in England, where the NBA doesn’t have a huge presence, tell me they saw Space Jam when I say I work for the NBA. It is true that it helped the NBA to develop. But behind all that you have a superstar like Michael Jordan who, beyond the film, enhanced the image of the NBA, not only through the sport itself, but through the Jordan brand: he’s a brand in his own right! You can see the impact he’s having with his shoes, indeed there are now a lot of other players launching their own brands. The NBA’s strategy has always been to promote its players. They’re the most important product, whether through their actions on the court or the content that ends up in the cinema or on online platforms.

And on Netflix The Last Dance has been available for a few months. Is that another strategy that might be deployed in the future to extend that longevity and perhaps reach out to new audiences?

No doubt about it! The success of The Last Dance has been breathtaking, with each of the 10 episodes watched more than 5 million times on average. That makes it the most watched sports documentary ever! A competing market is developing at an astounding rate with Amazon, Apple and Disney, and Canal+ and Salto – launched by TF1, France Télévisions and M6 – in France. It’s interesting to see how these TV channels are pulling together to face up to the international competition. Nowadays TV broadcasters have to go the extra mile to offer attractive content. An increasing number of sports are occupying this niche: Formula 1 in particular is making really excellent documentaries on Netflix, and there are several live sports events, from tennis to rugby. So yes, we are exploring potential opportunities, but I wouldn’t be surprised if in a few years or even a few months from now, the NBA was present on this type of platforms.

In these COVID times, how does it work in practice for broadcasts and TV audiences?

You have to adapt day by day to a different world and one that will never be the same across all sectors. Sport – and the NBA – has not been spared. The biggest challenge is to evaluate the uncertainties of the future, while continuing to shake things up. It’s a bit like moving forward with our eyes shut. In France, in the health crisis, the government sees sport as a non-essential product, but I don’t think it’s the right approach. Not only is it a strong economic factor, but it also underlies that is also a sort of driver of national cohesion behind sport, and I think at the moment it would do a great deal of good to encourage that. With regard to the NBA, we would naturally prefer to have stadiums full of fans, but I think we’ve managed to adapt quite quickly, particularly with the Orlando “Bubble” (NDLR, the “NBA Bubble”, an isolation zone created in Florida in the spring of 2020 to bring together most NBA players so they could finish the 2019–2020 season in safe conditions), which enabled us to continue to broadcast games live for our partners until the end of the season. We also had to adapt our content, like the NBA 2K video game series, through which we could create original content during the lockdown. I also think that audiences are gradually getting used to watching basketball and other sports without fans, even though it’s very different. Several aspects of production, like the sound of fans singing during a game, have been put in place. Different camera angles have also been tested, with narrower shots so you don’t see the empty seats. At the NBA, we also set up a virtual screen in the Bubble to allow some fans to attend games from their living room.

We’ve spoken about the consumer experience, but how do the players feel about playing in an empty stadium?

It’s not ideal for them, but they’re still being paid, they’re doing their work like the rest of us! In the Bubble, we didn’t have a single case of COVID among more than 250 players for 3 months! They were tested every day. It’s a new rhythm they have to adapt to, but they got used to it and were able to pursue their passion and do their jobs. I think that’s what they wanted more than anything. We’ll be starting the new season on 22 December, most likely with empty stadiums at the beginning, and then we’ll see how things unfold.

Since March have you seen changes in consumption behaviours or even in the contracts you sign with TV channels or platforms?

In terms of broadcasting, as I was saying, we’ve been able to “experiment” internally with new initiatives in terms of production. As for consumption habits, I’d prefer to wait another while before saying anything, as it’s difficult to form a view after just the first 3 or 4 months. There has clearly been a bigger uptake in platform consumption since people have been at home. And we succeeded in adapting the product, we needed to have a presence even when there were no matches being broadcast on TV. So we keep trying to upload content every day onto our digital platforms so we can continue to attract fans and engage with them. I don’t think there’s been a radical change in consumption itself, but we, as rights holders and broadcasters, need to look at all that closely. The “second screen” has been a big trend for a few years, whereby consumers watch not only sport on TV, but also series or other programmes, and use a tablet or their phone at the same time to discuss what’s being broadcast. So in that regard the NBA needs to engage strongly. We need to include ourselves as much as possible in these discussions between fans, those who are chatting on Twitter or Snapchat, we need to have a presence on those networks too. 

It’s sort of becoming community management …

That’s right, there is a highly developed community, particularly in France. Take the example of TrashTalk and First Team: we’re talking about fans who launched their own channel on YouTube and are now present on all platforms, including Twitter. They created their own community which is present for every game, whether it’s 9pm or 3am. People get up, grab a coffee, watch the games and chat together. They’re no longer on their own in their living room, they’re all together via their mobile screen. We are seeing a huge amount of new channels on YouTube, and podcasts created by people with an impressive level of expertise in sport – not only basketball – and who are setting up their own channels. Even though it’s not their profession, they still manage reach an audience. And this is something you can do from home without necessarily having colossal resources. All you need is talent and desire.


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