Los Angeles Clippers and Charlotte Hornets played two exhibition games in China this month as part of their NBA Global Games, the second just yesterday. Yutang Sports were invited by Tencent Sport to watch the game in Shenzhen on October 14. The broadcaster agreed an exclusive five-year deal with NBA in January to stream games over the internet.
Breaking into the Chinese market
Back in 1989, then NBA commissioner David Stern saw the amazing untapped market that existed is China and visited the headquarters of China Central Television (CCTV) in Beijing. He brought with him a box filled with videos of NBA games in order to test whether Chinese people were interested in watching NBA games. This move of Stern’s has turned out to be both proactive and smart.
Hard facts about the NBA in China
China is now second only to the United States as the NBA’s most important market with an estimated 300 million basketball fans.
The 2014-15 NBA season was watched by more than 690 million television viewers in China, while the average number of viewers per game during the playoffs reached 2.3 million on Tencent across all platforms - a 160 % increase over the previous season.
The NBA has 100 million social media followers in China.
All these contributory facts show why the NBA sends two teams to China every preseason. Up to now the NBA has played 20+ exhibitions in the country. Tickets for the two Hornets-Clippers exhibition games quickly sold out despite courtside seats being priced at around $500 per ticket.
Silver’s big plans for the Chinese market
But if you think NBA or more accurately NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is satisfied with the current success, you are wrong. He has been looking at even greater plans to further enhance its popularity and turn NBA into gold here.
When commenting on the deal between NBA and Tencent, Steve Ballmer, the former CEO of Microsoft and owner of Los Angeles Clippers, said ”Tencent has over 800 million users for its instant messaging software service and 600 million users on WeChat. It’s a huge user base, which makes Tencent a perfect partner for NBA which is eager to transform those users to fans of NBA and to further expand its influence in China.”
We can, to some extent, see what Silver is planning for China from this deal. It is said that LeTV Sports, one of the blooming online streamers in China, offered NBA 600 million US dollars for the five-year broadcasting rights, but the league finally chose Tencent as their exclusive partner for a $500 million-offer.
Silver also revealed that Tencent is developing a new broadcasting technology for a better viewing experience: "There will be a day when fans in China can experience an NBA game as if he or she was sitting courtside (in the US). We will replicate that feeling when you are in the arena with 20,000 other fans while you are actually at home," Silver said.
Additionally, the league has discussed the possibility of playing some games at about 10 am on the east coast, which would undoubtedly increase the league's viewership figures in Asia: "In this case, the main interest is to give fans the ability to watch games at prime time during the evening here. I think we will experiment with it at some point to get a sense of how much it will increase viewership.”
Proofread by John Devlin