Arnon de Mello, MBA ’07, always expected to use his business and finance skills at a startup in his home city of Rio de Janeiro, but he never expected the firm to be backed by one of the largest and most recognizable sports brands in the world: the National Basketball Association. “We are this huge company in the States, with more than a thousand employees, but here it’s a lean operation with a small team that does a lot of things at the same time,” de Mello says.
“We handle everything that’s business related to the NBA in Latin America, so that means, among other things, all media, licensing, and sponsorship deals.”
As vice president and managing director of NBA Latin America, de Mello might do something different every day. On a recent day, he negotiated a cable TV deal for the Caribbean, chose a new local beer partner, and discussed where to open the next NBA store in Mexico.
“The main goal is to increase our fan base in the region,” he explains. That can also involve organizing youth leagues or holding events. At the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, where players from different NBA teams joined forces on Team USA, he and his team launched NBA House, which was ultimately voted best hospitality house at the games. He saw it as an exciting opportunity for the NBA and his home city to shine.
De Mello wasn’t always an NBA fan—he began tuning in as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago. Through his years earning a dual master’s degree at MIT Sloan and the Harvard Kennedy School and then working at Lehman Brothers, his interest grew.
When he returned to Brazil, however, he found there was only one NBA game a week airing on TV. Today, thanks to negotiations by de Mello and staff, NBA fans in Latin America can catch 15 games a week on TV and stream games live via the NBA League Pass app. “This new media is really where we’re seeing a lot of growth,” he says.
In the long term, de Mello, who lives in Rio de Janeiro with his two children, Manuel and Alice, wants to continue to expand NBA opportunities throughout Latin America.
“Given the large Latino population in the United States and the heavy influence that Mexico has on the south and California and other places, it would be very cool to eventually have an NBA team in Mexico City—the largest city in North America,” he says.
The article originally appeared in July/August 2018 issue of MIT Technology Review magazine.