The NBA’s success in China and the NFL’s moves into the UK signal a massive overseas market for these distinctly American products.

American professional sports are an essential part of American culture. And for a long time, that dynamic drove the business approach of our sports leagues—marketing was hyper-focused on our shores, with a broad presumption that our sports culture is simply incompatible with the rest of the world’s. Keep our sports dollars on our side of the pond, let them have theirs.

Social media and an expanding range of viewing options have decimated that thinking. In recent years, my own kids and their friends were just as likely to wear a Manchester City or Real Madrid jersey as a New York Jets or Tampa Bay Buccaneers one. It goes the other way, too: Our sports leagues are making strong and smart moves into overseas markets—but more on that in a minute.

With exports and the trade balance dominating much of our political and economic discourse these days, the trend arrives at a pivotal moment. (Never forget: Any foreign dollar spent on an American good or service counts as an export, even if it’s the overseas viewing of a Steph Curry three-pointer or a Patrick Mahomes TD pass instead of the purchasing of a car or refrigerator.) Certain overseas markets are perfectly primed to join American sports fandom—an opportunity that could have a profound effect on international inbound travel and visitor spending. 

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