NBA Commissioner David Stern estimates revenue will be a record US$5 billion in the current season, an increase of about 20 per cent from the league's last full season in 2010-11.
Speaking at Beyond Sport United, a gathering of global team, league and industry executives at Yankee Stadium that focuses on social responsibility, Stern said NBA expansion to Europe is probably at least a decade away and that it likely would make sense to add several clubs there at once.
"I think for us the thing that would make the most sense would be a division in Europe at the time that it comes," he said. "I don't see that for another decade at least. Not one team."
Stern announced last month that he will retire on February 1, 2014, 30 years after he took over from Larry O'Brien, so international expansion will be passed on to Adam Silver, who has been deputy commissioner since 2006.
"It's not something we've done a lot of looking at, but it's something that we've had people approach us with," Stern said. "We obviously keep pretty close tabs on how our attendance is in our overseas games, what the pricing structure is, what the fan affinity is, what the television arrangements are, what the ratings are, all of the metrics of the business in a place or places. It's a pretty sophisticated enterprise."
The league's revenue estimate is for the year ending next September 30. That puts the NBA third among the major North American leagues, trailing the NFL (US$9 billion) and Major League Baseball (US$7.5 billion), but ahead of the NHL (US$3.3 billion).
"I would say that China, which is the largest segment outside the US, is doing very well. I would say we'll see that to some degree as well in Turkey, in Africa, in Brazil," Stern said. "The components are broadcast, digital, merchandise, marketing partnerships and events, which can be games and the 3-on-3 tournaments and clinics, any variety of events that draw people."
Stern said the NBA is broadcast in 46 languages to 216 nations or territories.
A year after a lockout that delayed the start of the season to December 25, Stern was critical of hockey union head Donald Fehr for his side's negotiating stance in the current NHL lockout. Fehr said that sports with salary caps are more prone to lockouts because of their labour structure.
Stern disagreed and said the 50-50 sharing arrangement agreed to by the NFL and NBA, and proposed by NHL owners, was fair.
"They have no choice but to stand and protect such business model as will be left when the negotiations finish," he said.