Online Exclusive: Profile: Max Hamilton, director of marketing EMEA, National Basketball Association

Basketball does not exactly course through Max Hamilton's veins. Yet the man charged with turning the National Basketball Association (NBA) into a viable UK sporting attraction does, at least, have a favourite team: the Boston Celtics, a nod to Hamilton's Irish upbringing.

Max Hamilton
Max Hamilton

The 35-year-old does not view his ‘limited exposure' to the NBA as either a handicap or a benefit. It is the kind of strait-laced answer that, one imagines, plays well at the NBA - an organisation famed for its family-friendly appeal to corporate brands.

It was not always this way. During the 1970s and early 80s, the NBA grappled with poor ratings and rumours that the league was rife with drugs. That all changed in 1984, when commissioner David Stern took charge and ushered in 25 years of aggressive expansion, transforming a moribund organisation into a branding success story.

 International appeal

The latest goal is to turn the NBA into a viable international brand. For the sharp-suited Hamilton, who has headed its EMEA marketing efforts over the past two years, that challenge does not appear as tricky as it may once have seemed.

The NBA already teems with international talent, accounting for 20 per cent of its players. And 60 per cent of its foreigners hail from EMEA. Even the UK, hardly a traditional basketball hotbed, counts three established NBA stars: Luol Deng, Ben Gordon and Pops Mensah-Bonsu.

Not that one is likely to find out much by reading the country's sports pages. ‘We are probably under-represented in the media, but from a participation perspective, the game of basketball is quite strong,' says Hamilton. ‘More people play it than you would think.'

Growing popularity

In the UK, says Hamilton, basketball is the second most popular team sport among under-18s. The 2012 Olympics, meanwhile, should offer an invaluable showcase for the country's national basketball team. The lack of a credible domestic league remains a significant obstacle, along with the competition posed by any number of higher-profile UK sports.

Hamilton will discuss the finer points of the NBA's globalisation strategy at the Sports Marketing 360 conference in London this week. In the UK, it roughly translates into a focus on on-ground events, including a regular series of NBA games at the O2, along with a heavy digital presence and a stronger broadcasting offer.

‘We have an increasingly localised approach,' says Hamilton. He is tangible evidence of this strategy, joining as the NBA's second UK employee after leaving an advertising agency in Sydney.

That was in 2007, and it is safe to say the NBA has done something right since then. Hamilton began his career for the organisation working out of his bedroom in London's Shepherd's Bush, tapping into his neighbour's broadband connection.

That particular episode puts a new spin on the NBA's motto, ‘Where Amazing Happens'. Today, ensconced in gleaming offices in the heart of Kensington, Hamilton appears to have a lot more space, and a reliable internet service.

Corporate opportunities

He becomes visibly enthused when he discusses how working for the NBA, offers tremendous access - not just to elite athletes, but to blue-chip brands. Even if he is a relatively late convert to the game, Hamilton is clearly becoming fluent in American hyperbole.

‘You can get meetings with great people and great brands,' he points out. ‘Really, there's no end to what we can achieve.'

Judging by the NBA's international success to date, Hamilton's positivity is not misplaced. ‘It really is a global game,' claims the Irishman who has himself spent the past few years hopping from one city to another across the world, during his career with ad agency TBWA.

Perhaps. But all the globetrotting in the world cannot mask the fact that no US sport has ever been able to challenge football's hegemony in the UK. With that in mind, the O2 event - which has already sold out - takes on particular importance. 

‘We offer a certain mix of sports and entertainment that is not typical to live sport in the UK,' explains Hamilton. ‘It is more American but we've had a very warm reception to that.'

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