Chinese basketball icon and eight-time NBA All-Star, Yao Ming, recently announced his retirement from the NBA. The announcement of Ming’s departure from the league has left many questioning whether his decision will severely impact the basketball market inChina.
My intuition is no.
The sport will continue to have the mass appeal within the Chinese market as the fate of basketball does not simply lie in the hands of one national All-Star. In fact, the institution of basketball has traditional roots in Chinathat can be traced as far back to when the game was originally created in the US. In 1892, YMCA missionaries journeyed to China, carrying “The Thirteen Rules of Basketball” and within short time, basketball was declared a Chinese national pastime.
The same holds true with many other countries around the world and the sport has further gained increased popularity within the past several decades, in particular. While they maintain a presence in multiple other markets worldwide, NBA China, by far, leads the way in regards to audience reach and popularity. First established in 2008, the league serves as a catalyst for accelerating the nation’s already growing basketball popularity and culture. It has been estimated by the Chinese government that 300 million people in Chinaplay basketball—nearly equivalent to entire population of the United States. Not only does this giant market have strong interest for the sport, fans are also engaged across multiple different traditional and digital media outlets.
The allure of 300 million basketball players ultimately led to the NBA establishment the NBA China entity. However, the approaches used for reaching the Chinese audience is what made their strategy worth taking a closer look into. For example, there are several professional basketball leagues already in place in China, such as the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), which is almost entirely regulated by the government. NBA China, on the other hand, is built more off an aggressive business model in which audiences are engaged through broad media play, along with sponsorships, promotions, events and an arena-management venture. This open approach will allow the NBA brand to grow, but also serves to increase popularity for the sport of basketball in partnership with a number of key players in the Chinese market.
1- Social Media: Last year, the SINA Corporation announced that were to become the official operator of the NBA’s Internet site inChina, NBA.com/china. SINA isChina’s leading online and mobile news and content provider and also has a growing social media presence as well.
However, arguably the most vital aspect of this partnership involves NBA China’s access to China’s most popular micro-blogging platform, Sina Weibo (akin to Twitter in the US). The functions of Sina Weibo far surpass that of Twitter by allowing users to create threaded comments, groups, audio messages, IM and direct video uploads. Its is because of these functions, the social media platform has become increasing popular in China currently with more than 100 million registered users and expects to keep growing rapidly. Currently, the NBA has 4.35 million fans on Sina Weibo and clearly has the potential for more as the brand continues to grow inChina.
The strategic alliance makes SINA an Official Internet Partner of the NBA inChinaand will provide a interactive user experience giving fans inChinaunprecedented access to their favorite teams and players.
2- Government: Since the government of China has a strong hold over just about every industry (including broadcasting and professional sports), the NBA’s decision pursuing business within the Chinese market was undoubtedly difficult. Although several limitations existed, the NBA has so far been successful in China. This can be attributed to the fact that the NBA choose to work in mutual partnership with the heavy-handed government, rather than in competition.
Financially, the motivation for the NBA pursuing business within the Chinese market is clear: China has become the NBA’s largest international market, and the NBA’s revenue in Chinais growing at a rate of 30% to 40% per year.
However what’s in it for China? The CBA already 17 teams andChinacompetes internationally in the Olympics as well as in other regional events.
Well, some would argue that the Chinese government views their sports as a projection of power, strength and obviously, national pride. Anyone remember the elaborate spectacle that was 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics? Many Chinese athletes are “bred” from a young age using a soviet model for athletic development, in which selected children are sent to special state-sponsored “boot-camp-style” training centers.
Therefore, both the NBA and the government want basketball to succeed in China, but for different reasons. So much so, that both parties have invested valuable resources on increasing the love of ‘game’ within the heart and minds of the Chinese in efforts meet their own intrinsic goals.
Future of NBA China:
Now, although Ming retired from the NBA, that does not mean the end of basketball fans in China. He still maintains deep ties to both the league that afforded him worldwide fame and to the nation gave him the foundations to build his international career. It is the hope that other Chinese athletes will do the same. With an average 30 million viewers per week, the NBA brand continues to be strong and new focused efforts in the Chinese market are a great step in the direction of building brand loyalty.