Kai Sotto will join the Adelaide 36ers for NBL22. Photo: Adelaide 36ers

Kai Sotto's marketability has already been felt in the NBL, with his signing announcement with the Adelaide 36ers reaching 2.6 million people world-wide.

Adelaide 36ers signing Kai Sotto offers the NBL a market the size of which it hasn’t seen since LaMelo Ball arrived on Australian shores in 2019.

In statistics provided courtesy of the Adelaide 36ers, its Facebook page has gained 41,400 additional likes. This is an extraordinary increase from its original tally of 53,000 page likes prior to the announcement.  

The 36ers are now the second most followed team on Facebook in the National Basketball Association, behind the Perth Wildcats with 121,000 followers.

Its posts in the week following the announcement have reached 2.6 million people world-wide, and achieved 597,200 engagements. This is a staggering rise of 575,800 post engagements, from 21,400 in the week prior to the Sotto announcement: a near 2750% increase.

Kai Sotto possesses that level of marketability; these numbers are only the beginning for what he can bring to the table for the 36ers and the NBL.

The 18-year-old big man from the Philippines has signed a two year deal with the Adelaide 36ers, and has an option to sign on for a third season. At 7’3″ (221 cm) he will be the tallest player in the NBL, and the tallest since Luke Nevill, when he joins his teammates for NBL22.

Sotto was signed by the 36ers under the Special Restricted Player provision. Players of select FIBA Asian countries, including the Philippines, can be signed by NBL teams with their salary counted outside of the hard cap.

Melbourne United signed Japanese guard Yudai Baba from the G-League falls under the same provision for NBL21.

Special Restricted Player contracts are in place to find promising players from growing basketball nations. However, the additional bonus for the NBL is to draw eyes to the league from countries with a rapidly growing interest in basketball.

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The National Basketball Association in the US has seen exponential growth within these markets over the past decade. The NBA now claims that its league is China’s most popular sports league to follow, with an estimated 300 million people in China now playing basketball.

These are the types of markets the NBL has been attempting to tap into. Both it and the 36ers have hit a game-winner over Paul George with the signature of Kai Sotto.

The Filipino product has a nation of over 110 million backing him as the best homegrown talent the country has produced. He will be representing the country at the Olympics qualification tournament in Serbia later this year, with the winner securing a trip to Tokyo 2020.

Sotto has over 256,000 followers on Instagram, including NBA star Kevin Durant. The Adelaide 36ers have 36,500 followers on the same platform; the scope to expand its world-wide coverage now has a pathway through the Filipino giant.

Sotto’s marketability in Asia and the United States will be a huge asset for the NBL, who reaped the rewards from now-NBA stars including Ball, RJ Hampton and Jae’Sean Tate.

LaMelo Ball created history for the NBL in his debut game. Over one million people in the United States watched Ball’s first game live for Illawarra back in NBL19.

It was a momentous occasion for the NBL, and Kai Sotto can potentially deliver comparable numbers when he takes the court.

NBL Commissioner Jeremy Loeliger was delighted with the 36ers signing.

“The NBL is one of the best leagues in the world and a great league to develop players like Kai Sotto who want to take their game to the next level by playing alongside seasoned professional players in a super competitive league,” he announced.

Adelaide 36ers Chairman Grant Kelly welcomed Sotto to the club, and referenced the huge signing that he is for the NBL.

“We are delighted to welcome Kai, both to the Club and the City of Adelaide,” he said.

“Attracting a player of Kai’s potential from Asia, and more recently the United States, to Adelaide, will only enhance the Club’s reputation for identifying and developing elite basketball talent.”

Sotto recently announced he had grown to 7’3” (221cm), and he will provide a formidable big man duo with Isaac Humphreys for Adelaide.

Whilst still an unknown commodity having never played in a professional league, he possesses elite touch around the rim for his incredible height, and has added over 10 kilograms to his frame since moving to the United States.

G-League Ignite has multiple players projected to be taken within the first five picks up the upcoming NBA Draft. However, Kai Sotto never suited up for the side. Instead, he planned to represent the Philippines in an Olympic qualification tournament which was subsequently cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a result, he never joined his Ignite teammates in the G-League bubble, but is now working out in Florida in preparation to represent the Philippines.

Kai Sotto is trying to become the first Filipino-born player in NBA history. Still just 18 years of age, he will be out to make his mark in Australia when he arrives for pre-season training later this year.

No one knows what his journey will entail, but whilst it unfolds the NBL will be gaining popularity across the globe.

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