There has been a big push to grow the sports industry in China, aided by Chinese government policy, and few sports have benefited more than basketball. Its popularity could match that of soccer and other growing sports. David Yang, Senior Vice President & Managing Director at NBA China, revealed to Yutang Sports in a recent exclusive interview that NBA is currently one of the most popular international sports leagues in China with around 100 million followers.
Based on this large fan base, NBA China is keen to take a step forward in the Chinese market by engaging more with these supporters. In Mr. Yang’s eyes, it is NBA’s priority to enable people who love the sport, especially young Chinese, to have greater access to the game through training and playing.
“It’s incumbent on the NBA to develop basketball among young people. NBA’s successes across the globe boil down to mass support from the fans. In the long run, the development of a sport can’t happen unless it is based on the younger generation. Firstly, tapping into the Chinese youth basketball market is a reward to the fans for their support over the years; secondly, if NBA wants to achieve greater success in China or even across the globe, it needs to make basketball the favorite sport for supporters at the grassroots level”.
NBA China officially set up Dongguan Basketball School through a partnership with the Chinese Basketball Association in 2011. The School has not only become the training center for the Chinese national basketball team, but it also provides systematic modules for Chinese youngsters who can take both basketball and general education lessons there. Since its establishment, around 2,000 have graduated from the School and many of them have been awarded opportunities to play professional basketball.
If the Dongguan Basketball School was set up to help develop professionals, the alliance with China’s Education Ministry 15 months ago was a means to grow the sport at grass-roots level on campuses.
“Our core concept is that we are not necessarily bound to foster just the top stars. There have only been a few Chinese players who reached world class level, so we want to say that children should feel free to come and enjoy themselves on court without thinking that they have to reach the highest standard. For those who haven’t accessed basketball, we hope that they will have opportunities to become involved with the sport as soon as possible, and to enable them to train, compete and play with teammates. It is important for us that children keep healthy both physically and mentally. We don’t mind who is named the MVP in Beijing or the ultimate winner, participation is the priority for us.”
“There is a Chinese saying that ‘friendship first, competition second’, so the priority for us is to see more children participate (in the game)”, Yang added.
Are children willing to engage with the sport? In an effort to engage more with youngsters, NBA has designed flexible basketball tutorials for China, drawing on the experience of promotions in India, the UK and Spain. NBA has diversified the tutorials with the help of multimedia, in videos, audios and images.
However, at times, NBA’s promotion in China has been challenging due to cultural differences between China and the US where the league is based. Despite the difficulties, NBA China “teaches through lively activities”, which Mr. Yang thinks can leave a positive impact on the lives of the children at the NBA Yao School.
In addition, NBA China is planning to invest over RMB10 million in setting up basketball courts in cities like Shenzhen and Shanghai. By constructing at least 50 courts, NBA China hope to enable more people to access basketball and also have some positive impact on them.
RMB10 million is not a big deal considering Chinese sport is expected to become an RMB7 trillion industry by 2025, in which basketball, soccer and other sports will play significant parts. In Mr Yang’s eyes, the effort is more like a trial and he hopes more enterprises and organizations will join them to help develop basketball and other sports in the public interest.
For NBA China, yet again, the next challenge is to expand the co-operation with China’s Education Ministry to cover 300 schools in 30 provinces and cities and build more public courts there within the next three years.
What NBA China has done in the Chinese market over the years is both deep and intensive, and it partly explains why NBA has influence and popularity in China. In the future, however, it is unknown whether it will continue to hold the leading position. Anyway, it appears, they are at least on the way to meet that objective.
Proofread by John Devlin.