• Denis Green

China Sports Business Weekly | 2nd August

Here are the top China sports business news stories you need to know from this week, and my From the Top interview is with Mark Fischer, CEO of Eastbridge Sports Management (and formerly, NBA China's first Managing Director), where we discussed the latest NBA & Tencent partnership, why basketball remains so popular in China, and what the latest rights extension could mean for the digital broadcast landscape in China


NBA & Tencent Extend Partnership Another Five Years The National Basketball Association (NBA) and Tencent, the exclusive official digital partner of the NBA in China, announced a five-year expansion of their existing partnership. Tencent - the NBA’s largest partner outside the US - will provide extensive NBA coverage on its platforms through the 2024-25 NBA season, including live NBA games, NBA programming, and interactive fan experiences. Read more on NBA English & Chinese


Mailman Take: Rumours are this deal comes in at 3 times the previous, making it a staggering $1.5b over 5 years. NBA will surely be happy with that cash injection, and Tencent keeps the most sought-after sports IP in China on its digital platform. I hate the term, but it’s a ‘win-win’. A loss leader to Tencent for sure, but that shouldn’t matter if they grow subscription numbers and drive more consumers to the company’s ecommerce channels.


Wanda Sports Goes Public on NASDAQ The sports arm of Wanda Group raised around $200m from an initial public offering (IPO), less than half its original target, and is in talks to sell a stake in its Legendary Entertainment film unit, continuing an asset sell-down to ease its debt burden. Read more on Reuters (English) and Sina (Chinese)


Mailman Take: It was always going to be a risk having the public markets set the value. Although Wanda has great sports assets, Chinese sports-related companies haven’t yet proven they can produce profitable enterprises. Be patient here.


PSG.LGD Secures Betway Sponsorship Leading online bookmaker Betway has entered into a global partnership with PSG.LGD, a leading professional DOTA 2 esports team. The reported six-figure agreement will see Betway branding appear on the players’ jerseys and jackets, and the bookmaker will also receive access to the players for content creation, as well as experiential and social media activities. Read more on esports insider (English) and Betway (Chinese)


Sanya Announces $682m Esports Theme Park The Sanya municipal government announced an esports theme park, with a total planned investment of $682m. The Sanya International Esports Theme Park planned land area is 742,500 square meters and will include 10,500 apartments housing up to 40,000 people. The aim is to build a multi-functional residential and shopping area that will be the first of an esports entertainment chain. Read more on Sport Business (English) and Ecosports (Chinese)


Mailman Take: A flashy headline with a huge amount of money, but will it be a success, or even happen? We’ve seen these ‘theme parks’ touted to spring up across China before, a famous example being the Lionel Messi theme park due to open in Nanjing, yet we’ve seen or heard nothing since the announcement in 2017. China is infamous for building large entertainment & industrial areas fitted with thousands of apartments which remain dormant. For such a heavy investment, I wonder how high the ROI is on the government's priority list. 


NBA China Bring On Leyard as Marketing Partner Chinese electronics manufacturer Leyard will become the Official Marketing Partner for NBA’s “5v5”  basketball tournament to be held in the Chinese cities of Guangzhou, Chengdu, Shenyang, and Hangzhou. Read more on Sport Business (English) and Leyard China (Chinese)


In Other News


Baofeng CEO Under Investigation Feng Xin, chief executive of Baofeng, the Chinese technology company that held a stake in the now-defunct MP & Silva agency, is being investigated by police on suspicion of committing a crime. In a statement sent to the Shenzhen Stock Exchange, Baofemng said Feng has been "placed under coercive measures by the police due to suspected crime.”


Mailman Take: Things going from bad to worse for Baofeng. In October, the UK High Court’s Bankruptcy Court ruled the MP & Silva agency to be wound up.


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From the Top


This week I spoke to Mark Fischer, CEO of Eastbridge Sports Management (and formerly, NBA China's first Managing Director), where we discussed the latest NBA & Tencent partnership, why basketball remains so popular in China, and what the latest rights extension could mean for the digital broadcast landscape in China


1. The reported fee of $1.5 billion over 5 years dwarfs what PP Sports is paying for the English Premier League. What sets basketball apart from the rest in China? There are two key factors here. The first is NBA's structural business advantages as the clear global leader of the sport of basketball, with a historical ability to control and drive the marketing of its teams and players collectively; as opposed to the sport of football where branding and intellectual property are much more fragmented across many competing leagues, clubs, the World Cup, and so on.

The second is the fantastic job the NBA has done exploiting those structural advantages in China over the years. This began with ensuring national TV coverage on CCTV as far back as the 1980's, and the establishment of offices in Beijing and Shanghai in the 2000's. Since then, NBA China has pursued a smart and aggressive growth strategy to continue building its integrated marketing model -- along with the popularity of basketball in general.  

Thus naturally, media rights fees for NBA will become more valuable over time vs any single football league rights, or rights for any other sports league, for that matter. That said, football remains very popular across China in many other respects and the government continues to incentivize the growth of the sport via building pitches and so on.


2. How can Tencent grow and improve its digital product ensuring it caters to the younger generation? Tencent is strategically well-placed to market the NBA across its digital products and networks to new generations of sports fans; in part because of its expertise and leadership in other digital platforms. For example, WeChat and online e-gaming, including e-sports, are just two examples presenting tremendous opportunities for Tencent to promote its NBA content to younger demographics. In addition, Tencent is a proven technological leader and innovator, including for its NBA offerings, for which Tencent was recently complemented by Commissioner Adam Silver.


3. Why is it important for Tencent to claim the NBA for the next 5 years in terms of the OTT China landscape? It is important for Tencent to hold on to the NBA at this stage, even if their direct revenues (for example, from subscriptions and advertising) from the NBA platform do not even cover the new deal's rights fees.  First, Tencent gets to keep these millions of NBA fans in their digital ecosystem and part of their user base and not a competitor's, which is so critical in China's ultra-competitive digital landscape. Second, the renewal provides many PR and B2B advantages for Tencent from a corporate image and branding point of view.


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Mailman is a global sports digital agency and marketing platform. We help global rights holders, athletes and brands build a successful business across China, Europe, and Southeast Asia. Learn more about our story here

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