In Brazil, soccer is king. But major U.S. sports leagues and some teams believe the South American country of more than 200 million people is ready for more.
A new Morning Consult survey conducted in Brazil shows why multiple U.S.-based sports entities like the NBA and NFL are devoting their resources toward the country, where sports fans are known for their passion and being open to embracing American leagues.
Forty-five percent of Brazilian adults said they were “avid” or “casual” NBA fans, rivaling fandom in the country of soccer leagues like the English Premier League and Germany’s Bundesliga. Roughly 2 in 5 Brazilian adults (41%), meanwhile, said they are fans of the NFL.
“The brand is super hot,” said Rodrigo Vicentini, head of NBA Brazil, who added that the country is the league’s second priority market internationally outside of China. “Our mindset, though, is this is just the beginning.”
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The NBA is celebrating its 10th year in Brazil after opening the NBA Brazil office in Rio de Janeiro. The group employs a 25-person staff between São Paulo and Rio.
According to internal NBA data and external research, more than 45 million Brazilians identify as NBA fans, Vicentini said, a figure that’s doubled from 2017 to 2021.
The league has grown in Brazil by deploying a multipronged strategy, he said, by combining grassroots basketball and educational programming designed for younger children and teenagers with an expanded retail presence, wide media distribution across linear, social media and digital platforms and business tie-ups with sponsors, who can leverage the league’s Brazilian audience.
There are now 18 NBA-branded retail stores in Brazil along with an NBA mobile truck store, the first and only such store on wheels for the league. A retail store visitor in Brazil typically spends an hour to 90 minutes participating in the immersive experience, Vicentini said, from shooting hoops and watching live NBA games to playing the NBA 2K video game and shopping for a jersey.
Blue-chip companies that work with the league in Brazil include Gatorade, SAP, Google and Nike Inc., among others. All told, about 25 companies have a relationship with NBA Brazil, Vicentini said. The NBA declined to disclose financial information about its sponsorship business in the country.
Among international markets, Brazil ranks No. 1 in subscribers on NBA League Pass, the league’s TV service that broadcasts every game to subscribers. Vicentini expects more investment into the league’s streaming provider in Brazil with Portuguese-specific content and programming around sneaker culture, fashion and lifestyle.
With the NBA Finals looming, over 30,000 fans are expected to buy tickets to this year’s NBA House, which features local partner Budweiser as a presenting sponsor, according to Vicentini. He described the event as a “deep-dive into the NBA universe” where fans can win prizes, watch the finals and participate in sponsors’ activations.
“It doesn’t matter where you are in Brazil,” Vicentini said, “you’re going to see the NBA all over the place.”
Orlando’s magical connection with Brazil
Haley Meier, director of tourism and group sales for the NBA’s Orlando Magic, said the city’s tourism association Visit Orlando identified Brazil as a top international market several years ago. Over the past decade, the Magic have followed a similar “all-in” approach with Brazil, she said.
The organization’s multiple trips to Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo have served as both a relationship-building and business development exercise with online travel agencies and tour operators who can then incorporate a Magic ticket into their suite of product offerings. There’s been a concerted effort by the Magic to participate in tour and travel trade shows that focus on the county, she said.
The Magic, which faced the pro Brazilian team Flamengo in a 2015 preseason game in Rio as part of the NBA Global Games, have also hosted virtual sales training seminars for Brazil-based travel agents and tour operators, in which Magic staff provide key talking points to sellers who book trips to Orlando.
“We joke here and say, ‘We’re the ultimate dinner show,’” Meier said. “This is not just a basketball game. This is really that ultimate experience where you can come and be entertained.”
Before the pandemic, around 115,000 international guests from 110 countries would attend a Magic game at Amway Center in Orlando in any given season — with Brazilians accounting for the largest share of ticket holders outside of Americans, Meier said. From 2016 to 2019, the Magic saw a 60% uptick in attendees hailing from the South America country.
In 2019, the Magic became the first NBA franchise to launch social media channels on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with Portuguese content. Meier said a collaboration with Miami-based sports marketing agency Samba Digital has been key to building an audience in Brazil.
NFL sees Brazil as “growth market”
Damani Leech, the NFL’s chief operating officer of international, said there are about 14 million “avid” NFL fans in Brazil, according to the league’s own monthly market research. Those NFL fans are “more affluent,” “skew younger” and are “heavier social media users” than the average sports fan in Brazil, he said.
“Those are some of the more micro-indicators that tell us, ‘OK, there’s an opportunity to really capitalize on what we already have as a foundation of fandom in the market,’” Leech said.
The NFL sees Brazil as an “up-and-coming growth market,” similar to Australia, according to Leech. Morning Consult data found that Brazilian sports fans had a net favorability rating (the share with a favorable opinion minus the share with an unfavorable view) of 26 for the NFL.
U.S.-Based Sports Leagues Have Room for Improvement in Brazil
Leech said he’d be pleased with the NFL’s growth in Brazil over the next 18 months if the league launches a grassroots flag football program, executes at least one local fan event and sees increases in the league’s e-commerce platform, which it launched with global digital sports platform Fanatics Inc. and Brazilian online sports retailer Netshoes last year.
Other growth areas in Brazil include live-game consumption across cable, free-to-air and direct-to-consumer platforms like the streaming service Game Pass and boosts in Super Bowl viewership, according to Leech. From 2021 to 2022, the league saw a 182% surge in its audience for the big game, he said, which aired on the Brazilian network RedeTV. It was the first time in five years that Brazilian fans could watch the Super Bowl on free-to-air TV.
As sure of a sign as any that the league is invested in a new market is who it chooses to announce its all-important draft picks. Last month, the Miami Dolphins tapped Flamengo footballer Filipe Luís to announce the franchise’s fourth-round selection, live from the base of the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro.
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated which respondents said they were fans of the NBA and NFL. The shares were of all Brazilian adults.