The NBA’s unprecedented growth in China fueled By Jeremy Lin and media platforms

30 July 2012 23 h 37 min Comments Off

30 years ago, the NBA recognized that a new, untapped basketball market existed.  The market did not exist in the basketball hotbeds of Los Angeles or New York, but rather, thousands of miles and an ocean away in China.

Over the last 30 years, the NBA has engaged in extensive efforts to bring the sport of basketball to the Chinese people.  The results have been largely successful, as today, over 300 million Chinese citizens play the sport and the NBA coming off of its most-viewed season in China.

Initially, the NBA’s relationship with the Chinese market was built upon goodwill efforts.  While historians assert that the Chinese people have played basketball for over a century, the NBA recognized the culture’s love for the game as a diplomacy opportunity for its brand.  In 1979, the then-Washington Bullets were the first team to travel to China to play in a goodwill game against the Chinese national team.  Since then, the NBA’s China initiative has dramatically developed, as demonstrated by the 2008 formation of NBA China, which now employs 140 employees in several Chinese offices.

NBA China CEO David Shoemaker noted, “We have been able to not only grow the game of basketball and interest in NBA basketball in China, but run a nice business as well.”

Business is indeed good for the NBA in China.  The league enjoyed unprecedented viewership numbers last season on television, online and mobile platforms.  Television viewership was up 21 percent this season, while daily page views were up 23.4 percent and overall video streams were up 58.9 percent.  While NBA China has enjoyed strategic partnerships with Disney/ESPN, Bank of China Group Investment, Legend Holdings, China Merchant Group and Li Ka Shing Foundation since 2008 since these companies invested $253 million into NBA China, NBA China’s list of partners continues to grow.   This season, NBA China formed multiyear marketing partnerships with AB and Gatorade and renewed an existing partnership with Lenovo.  Furthermore, over the last three seasons, the NBA has seen its merchandise revenue in China quadruple.

Arguably, the success of Jeremy Lin during the 2011-12 NBA season helped fuel the NBA’s merchandise sales in China.

Shoemaker noted, “We were in the midst of having our strongest year on record [in China], and then in a burst of a few short days in February, Jeremy came along and ‘Linsanity’ was born.  The impact here in China was as strong, if not stronger, than everywhere else in the world.”

Unlike American fans whose merchandise purchases are largely dependent upon the team they support, Chinese fans generally devote their support to a particular player.  As such, Shoemaker expects that Chinese fans will continue to support Lin when he begins playing for the Houston Rockets this fall.

While Lin’s strong presence currently is driving NBA interest in China, former NBA player Yao Ming continues to devote his efforts to building NBA interest in ChinaJust last week, NBA China and Ming announced a partnership creating a joint youth basketball and social responsibility program.  The program will include:  a high school coaches training program; a basketball training center in Shanghai for both amateur and professional players of a wide range of ages; and an annual basketball camp that will focus on developing elite youth players.  “I am just thrilled personally and professionally to have been able to partner with Yao, who is an icon of Chinese basketball–a transformational player here in China–who has done so much for the game both on and off the court and is then a wonderful person to boot.  I think we are going to do great things together in order to further the development and growth [of basketball] here in China,” Shoemaker said.

This fall, the NBA will continue to grow interest in its brand when the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers play in the NBA China Games.  The two games that the teams will play against each other will mark the sixth edition of the event, which when launched in 2004, marked the first time that an American professional sports league played games in China.  2012 will be the first time that an NBA championship winning team has competed in the China Games.  “The excitement here is palpable.  We are expecting sold out games,” Shoemaker said.

30 years ago, the NBA entered China on a goodwill mission to bring the sport of basketball to a nation on a higher level.  While the impact of the league’s efforts is clearly seen in the number of Chinese citizens who play the sport and the financial success the NBA has gained in China, perhaps the NBA’s impact is most clearly seen in its social influences.  For instance, the July 16 publication of the Chinese dictionary, which only been revised six times, included the addition of ”NBA.” Other western-influenced words, like “awesome” and “shocking” were also added to the dictionary.  To Shoemaker, the addition of “NBA” to the Chinese dictionary “says. . . that we truly arrived.  It is a further sign of the modernization and the reform-minded attitude of the leaders of China, that there is a real openness to all things American.”

Given the successful partnership that the NBA has found with the Chinese people, one can expect that such openess continue and that NBA popularity in China will continue to surge.

Source: forbes.com (27/07/2012)

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