The NBA's China Gamble

The NBA just completed its annual visit to China with big crowds coming out in Guangzhou and Beijing to watch two mediocre teams and during the time in China, the NBA announced plans to build a number of new stadiums in China. The original figure being reported is that 12 new stadiums are to be built around China. The NBA plans on partnering with AEG, a major global sports and entertainment company who the NBA worked with before (most recently on England's O2 Stadium). While AEG seems rearing for 12 stadiums, an interview with NBA Commish David Stern made it seem like the 12 was more an aspirational figure than anything else. For the time being, it seems, the focus will be on building new venues in Shanghai and Guangzhou. It should also be noted, NBA China, the league's domestic arm here, owns the Wukesong Stadium and complex where the Olympic basketball competition (and this year's China Games) was held.

I can see why new venues are needed in Beijing and Shanghai. Both cities lack decent indoor venues. The majority of them are either extremely old (Worker's Gymnasium and Capital Stadium in Beijing, Shanghai Indoor Stadium in Shanghai) or in the middle of nowhere (the Tennis Center in shanghai). The Wukesong venue, brand spanking new and very accessible, is exactly what Shanghai needs. The problem is there aren't year long events that can use such a venue. The NBA has come to China once each year and there are a few winter concerts that could use such a venue, but beyond that, there aren't regular sports competitions or other uses for the venue. The NHL will probably come for a game in a year or two, but even with AEG's power in the entertainment world, won't these stadiums just remain empty the majority of the year?

Beyond that, you have to wonder, where will the other 10 stadiums be placed? Sure, outside of Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, other cities are even in greater need of newer indoor stadiums, but what events can you put in them. After Shanghai and Guangzhou, who comes next? Shenzhen? Shenyang? Tianjin? The money won't come in solely from the arena but from the "entertainment/retail complex" that will be set up around the arena, but there has to be a draw and in many of these cities, with such complexes already in abundance, it's going to be hard bringing in the masses.

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