Amer­ican sports are increas­ingly reaching audi­ences around the world. Next month, for example, the New Eng­land Patriots will play the Tampa Bay Buc­ca­neers in London, where “foot­ball” usu­ally means soccer. Here, Andrew Rohm, asso­ciate pro­fessor of mar­keting at North­eastern, dis­cusses the impact of mar­keting teams and ath­letes to an inter­na­tional audi­ence. His research is pub­lished in leading aca­d­emic and man­age­ment jour­nals, including Sports Mar­keting Quarterly.

What effect has mar­keting Amer­ican sports to a global audi­ence had on orga­ni­za­tions such as Major League Base­ball (MLB)?

The global mar­keting of Amer­ican sports, par­tic­u­larly base­ball, bas­ket­ball, and now foot­ball, has had a sig­nif­i­cant impact on rev­enue streams. As these sports and players become more and more pop­ular in Asian and Euro­pean mar­kets, inter­na­tional view­er­ship increases and sales of licensed prod­ucts asso­ci­ated with these sports and the players increase—namely shoes and apparel.

How are Amer­ican sports and its ath­letes viewed in other countries?

Before MLB’s deci­sion to play regular-​​season games in Japan, and before the World Base­ball Classic (an inter­na­tional tour­na­ment among pro­fes­sional players from 16 coun­tries around the world), leagues such as the National Bas­ket­ball Asso­ci­a­tion and the National Foot­ball League sought to estab­lish a pres­ence in China and Europe. For instance, when Reebok signed Shaquille O’Neal in the early 1990s, both the NBA and Reebok were sur­prised and delighted to find out that Shaq was viewed as a larger-​​than-​​life “ath­letic rock star” among Chi­nese fans. In China, sports mar­keting and spon­sor­ships have grown into a $15 bil­lion annual industry, which under­lines the poten­tial for Amer­ican leagues and sports stars in these large and rel­a­tively untapped global markets.

In 2007, more than 200 mil­lion people in China tuned in to watch Chinese-​​born NBA super­star Yao Ming square off against fellow coun­tryman and rookie sen­sa­tion Yi Jian­lian. Might we someday see an NBA team in China or, say, a MLB team in the Dominican Republic?

Hun­dred of mil­lions of Chi­nese tuned into the 2008 Olympic bas­ket­ball games on TV, and high-​​profile ath­letes such as Dwayne Wade were treated like roy­alty by fans and poten­tial spon­sors alike. The con­flu­ence of the sports’ pop­u­larity in mar­kets such as China, the interest of global cor­po­ra­tions in tap­ping into the country’s growing middle-​​class market, in addi­tion to new rev­enue streams from ticket sales, broad­cast rights and licensed product sales, will most likely result in some type of global team expan­sion in the near future.

How would a more global game affect tra­di­tional rival­ries, like Red Sox-​​Yankees?

A more global game would only strengthen fan interest in rival­ries among teams like the Red Sox and Yan­kees. Living in Europe in 2008, I was sur­prised by the num­bers of Yan­kees hats I saw on people who most likely had never played, or seen, a game of base­ball! Teams such as these hold sig­nif­i­cant cachet far beyond the U.S. market.

Few, if any, ath­letes have greater global appeal than golf’s Tiger Woods and soccer’s David Beckham. Could playing over­seas ben­efit other super­star athletes?

Leagues have ben­e­fited, and will con­tinue to ben­efit, from increased player expo­sure over­seas. Case in point: apparel sales in China. Jer­seys rep­re­senting some of the top NBA players, including Lebron James and Dwayne Wade, already top those for Yao Ming. More­over, the NBA’s Wash­ington Wiz­ards vis­ited China this month to mark the 30-​​year anniver­sary of the league’s first tour of that country in 1979. So, there is sig­nif­i­cant poten­tial for the leagues to increase the pres­ence of their star players in these over­seas markets.

In 2008, the NFL topped $7 bil­lion in rev­enues; in 2007, Major League Base­ball made more than $6 bil­lion. How would attracting a more global audi­ence impact pro sports’ bottom line?

Attracting a more global audi­ence will only help the bottom-​​line of leagues such as MLB, NFL and NBA by pro­moting players, and in turn, pro­moting sales of licensed prod­ucts and increased view­er­ship of games broad­cast in global markets.