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2008/01/15

It's Official: NBA China in Business

I know stories came out months ago that the NBA would be forming an entity in China, though I thought it was already a done deal. As it turned out, it wasn't, but yesterday, the NBA officially formed NBA China in Beijing. Offices will be in Beijing and Shanghai and soon coming to Guangzhou. A bit on the finances:

Five partners will invest $253 million to acquire 11 percent of the company,
which will handle everything from merchandising and marketing to television and
other media, in preferred equity. They are ESPN, Bank of China Group Investment,
Legend Holdings Limited, Li Ka Shing Foundation and China Merchants Investments.

The NBA was the first, and to date only, American sports league to play a game in China and is the only league that features Chinese players. The MLB (baseball) and the NFL (American football) have been in talks to hold games in China, but have yet been able to work out all the details. Both sports have attempted to develop Chinese talent and the MLB has even entered the market as a "fashion brand", available in high end malls. The major difference, though, is that while the MLB and NFL are fighting an uphill fight to introduce the game to the Chinese and nurture interest, the NBA is long past that stage. Basketball has a long history in China, where missionaries brought the game to the masses shortly after Dr. Naismith hung up those peach baskets in Springfield, Mass. Selling the people on NBA basketball wasn't a hard sell in the late 80s when Jordan was in his prime and all things western were cool.

Baseball has a chance to succeed, but the key is building a domestic program and to start getting some decent players so that a domestic league can be formed. One existed a few years ago, but was a major failure, and is now but a faded memory, if its even thought about. Football will have a much harder time because it goes on during the basketball and soccer season, when the Chinese focus is elsewhere and, a problem baseball may have as well, it's too slow moving to keep the fans interested.

My own personal wish would be to see the NHL make a China play, but Bettman, who is a total failure, has basically ignored the China market and any action he has taken was at the behest of the New York Islanders Chinese-American owner, Charles Wang. San Jose has put some money into the Beijing "professional" team, but that lacks much exposure. Hockey is a sport with a long history in China, being played mostly by Russian in the Northeast, but mixed teams did exist. Also, China has a large population of expats, not only Americans and Canadians, but Scandinavians and, of course, Russians, many who have a deep interest in the sport. It may be a tough sell, but the NHL played in Japan last year(?) and at the very least, Bettman owes it to the league to explore the Chinese market a bit more.

Anyways, here's hoping NBA China will be able to do the impossible, help make the CBA watchable.

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