By Keith Weir
LONDON (Reuters) - More international investors will follow the example of Brooklyn Nets' Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov and buy into U.S. basketball, NBA boss David Stern said on Thursday.
Wealthy groups in China, the Middle East and Latin America were all potential investors in NBA franchises, Stern said. He believed the sport could absorb the inflationary pressures that flows of foreign money have brought into English soccer's Premier League.
"We encourage that movement of capital and we think it is inevitable," NBA Commissioner Stern told reporters, reflecting on the example set by Prokhorov's purchase of the now rebranded New Jersey Nets in 2010.
"In addition we also have an operating structure with a salary cap that very much blunts the impact of pure dollars or pounds or roubles," he added.
Stern was speaking ahead of Thursday's NBA regular season clash between the Nets and Atlanta Hawks which will be played in London, one of a series of games held overseas to help promote international interest in the NBA.
Stern, who steps down at the end of the month after 30 years of running the NBA, said the ultimate aim was to have a European division with possibly five teams in major cities like London, Berlin and Paris.
However, Stern and successor Adam Silver said there was still a lot of work to be done before that became possible.
The 20,000-seater 02 Arena on the banks of the Thames is sold out for Thursday night's NBA game but basketball has a relatively low profile in Britain where soccer is the dominant sport.
The NBA is at least enjoying more television exposure in Britain after BT bought the rights to show live matches to expand the programming on its new sports channels.
"The reason we bring games here is a long-term vision for building basketball in the UK and in Europe," said Silver.
"It's like any other business, it requires strong leadership, it requires investment, it requires know-how but we see the opportunity."
Silver also said that NBA teams would eventually follow the example of soccer and allow sponsors to put their logos on team kit - a big source of revenues for top teams.
"It's inevitable that it will come to the NBA," he said.
(Writing by Keith Weir, editing by Justin Palmer)