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Meet New NBA China CEO Derek Chang: Developing basketball in China is the primary opportunity

By Andrea Huang 02 Jul 2018

NBA, one of the most successful overseas sports leagues in the current Chinese market, recently officially welcomed into office a new leader for their Chinese market. Derek Chang, the new NBA China CEO, has officially taken over from David Shoemaker and started his tenure in NBA China at the beginning of June. 

On a Thursday afternoon, one month after he officially began the job, in one of the bright meeting rooms of NBA China in Beijing Chang held his first public meeting with some media representatives from China. 

A graduate of History in Yale and an MBA from Stanford University, Derek Chang led Scripps Networks Interactive’s International Lifestyle Channels before coming to NBA China, and served as Executive Vice President of Content Strategy and Development at DIRECTV as well as other management roles in TV channels and communication companies before that. 

He has Chinese origins. His parents were born in China and was given a unique Chinese name, Zhang Chiju (张墀驹), which is uncommon and is likely to make many Chinese people associate it with an academic and well-educated family background. 

He first came to China on a two-week athletic exchange with a rowing team thirty years ago and later returned to China to teach English at Nanjing University for a few months. He said both experiences had connections to basketball, as even back then there were basketball courts everywhere they went. Even before his trip to Europe after teaching English in China, Chang gave away most of his possessions and the two NBA star Michael Jordan’s posters he bought in Hong Kong were the things his students liked most. 

As is well-known today, NBA is very popular in China and the former CEO David Shoemaker left basketball in a very good position after his seven-year leadership at NBA China. Derek agrees that “the NBA is probably at an all-time high around the world right now, nowhere more so than in China.” 

“It’s such an exciting time for me to be joining the league and being able to lead the team here in China.” 

Although he says he is still on a learning curve in the company, meeting the teams here and understanding each department’s work and getting to know their partners, he expressed that one of the primary goals and directions of what NBA China wants to do is to help to develop basketball in China, whether it’s through collaborations with the Ministry of Education, by supporting the Chinese Basketball Association, or through the Junior NBA programs. 

Because “ultimately, if we raise the visibility of basketball in China, it’s best for everyone. FIBA World Cup next year is in China, that raises the visibility. Tokyo Olympics right after that. I think the CBA is on the path, over the short medium term, to improve the level of play at the elite level, but also overall, developing the sport at even the most junior level in this country.” 

He repeatedly talked about the Junior NBA program as an example of their efforts to develop basketball in China. According to him, the program was implemented a few years ago and has developed into basketball academies and have grown rapidly. 

“We are very much behind any effort to develop the sport of basketball.” 

On the other hand, in terms of the NBA’s development in China, he believes there are still opportunities in this market, although NBA’s popularity and development in China is without doubt and some may say the market is already very mature. 

The opportunities come from a few areas. First, to continue to reach more fans. He remarks that the company has done a very good job in reaching their core fans in China, but he does think there are other fans that could be reached and they would try to reach a broader and greater audience. 

Again, Junior NBA, one of their main efforts in China, which is in alignment with one of the national development goals-- promoting the health of citizens, presents further opportunities. By implementing Junior NBA programs, millions of students in thousands of schools can get in touch with and play basketball, allowing basketball to be a part of people’s daily lives. 

Junior NBA in return can also develop more fans for NBA because as people play basketball, they are likely to develop more interest in the sport. 

Opportunities come together with challenges. Given Derek Chang’s background in the media and technology industry over the past decades, he specifically suggests the continuously changing media and technology landscapes should be paid close attention to. It’s a challenge of “how to stay abreast of that and how to continue to use those assets in a way that helps you to engage with your fans or have them engaged with your contents and products.” Luckily, he adds that their content naturally lends well to most channels and they are confident to engage well with fans. 

Basketball is an important part, but the business side is crucial too. With 23 sponsors currently signed up, NBA China is not going to sit still according to Derek. He points out that a premier brand such as the NBA has a strong appeal for companies to be associated with, but the world does not sit still. They should and are continuing to offer new ways to help deliver more value for brands by partnering with the NBA. For example, for brands to take part in the NBA Global Games in China or at the NBA 5v5, etc. 

After all, in his first month since coming to the league, there are many things that need to be looked at and learned about. There are challenges in his work, as well as high expectations in the Chinese market from his headquarters. He explained he would take the next few months familiarize himself with each area and then with those insights, to prioritize around what makes sense for them to move ahead. 

Proofread by Raymond Fitzpatrick

Tags: NBA NBA China
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