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  • Denis Green

China Sports Business Weekly | 9th 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 Derek Chang, CEO of NBA China - our discussion is based on last week’s news regarding the NBA and Tencent’s partnership extension, as well as the impact NBA 2K is having in the country. 


Alex Ovechkin Completes Successful China Trip as NHL Ambassador Washington Capitals captain and 2018 Stanley Cup winner Alex Ovechkin has been in China all week as an official NHL ambassador. Ovechkin spent his time with hundreds of hockey kids on-ice and playing ball hockey while helping to promote the NHL & sport of hockey and encouraging more children to get involved. Read more on NHL.com (English) & Lanxiong Sports (Chinese)


Mailman Take: Star power is key in China, and there are not many bigger names in Ice Hockey than Alex Ovechkin. It’s great to see the NHL again showing its commitment to market here through sending out one of its most famous. If a sports organisation is serious about growing its game and brand in China then it has to be present and show a certain degree of love. The NHL has done that here.  


FIBA Signs LED Partnership with Unilumin The International Basketball Federation (FIBA) announced Unilumin as its official supplier of LEDs. Beginning on August 31 when this year's men's World Cup in China begins, the partnership will also cover the next edition of the flagship event in 2023 which will be co-hosted by Japan, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Read more on FIBA (English) and Lanxiong Sports (Chinese) Trophée des Champions TV Audience Doubles in China France’s Ligue 1 Trophée des Champions match was watched by a live audience of 1.8m viewers on state broadcaster CCTV. The curtain-raiser between Paris Saint-Germain and Rennes in Shenzhen was shown live by sports channel CCTV5+ and the audience was double the 894,000 on CCTV for last year’s match between PSG and Monaco. Read more on SportBusiness (English) and PSG China (Chinese)


Mailman Take: A good sign for Ligue 1 which has been playing catch-up and competing with the EPL, LaLiga, and Bundesliga for fans in China. Hosting competitive games outside of France was a bold decision to make, but the league needed to be, as other European football organsations have historically been stronger. A continuation of playing competitive games in China can only be positive as viewing figures and fan numbers carry on growing.  


Ligue 1 Signs Ning Zetao as Ambassador The top tier of French football has signed Chinese former world sprint swimming champion Ning Zetao as a sporting ambassador. Ning Zetao won the 100m freestyle world title in 2015 and was a four-time gold medallist at the Asian Games. He was presented alongside two more Ligue 1 ambassadors, former football stars Youri Djorkaeff and Edmilson. Read more on SportBusiness (English) and Ecosports (Chinese)


Mailman Take: The Chinese ambassador, despite a controversial past at times, has been an excellent medium to drive mass awareness of the French league. With Paris Saint-Germain winning the Trophée des Champion in Shenzhen, the league is looking for increased competition and to attract new fans to the other teams. 


RCD Espanyol Signs Deal with iFLYTEK Chinese technology company iFLYTEK has become an official partner of Spanish side RCD Espanyol, with the club’s Chinese striker Wu Lei becoming the first spokesman of the iFLYTEK Translator. Read more on Xinhua (English) and Sports Money (Chinese)


In Other News


How Clubs Should Approach Commercialising Digital Inventory Mailman Group chief executive Andrew Collins offers his thoughts on the value of digital inventory and why it should not be frittered away in small-time deals. Read the full blog on SportsPro (English) Naturalised Elkeson ‘named’ in China’s World Cup squad The Brazilian striker is set to become the first player to represent China on grounds of residency when Qatar 2022 qualifiers begin in September. Read more on SCMP (English) and Sohu (Chinese)


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From the Top


This week I spoke to Derek Chang, CEO of NBA China - our discussion is based on last week’s news regarding the NBA and Tencent’s partnership extension, as well as the impact NBA 2K is having in the country. 


1. Was it an easy decision to stick with Tencent as the exclusive digital broadcaster and what makes them such a good partner to work with? Let me begin by saying that the popularity of the NBA is at an all-time high. More than 300 million people play basketball in China, and the NBA is the most-followed sports league on social media with more than 200 million followers.


We chose Tencent because we have a 10-year partnership and they have played a significant role in helping us build our brand. They have been very innovative and have invested a great deal in the promotion and broadcast of our games and content. We know our fans in China love consuming our content on Tencent. And, when we look at the broad number of platforms on which Tencent reaches out to our fans, such as Wechat, Weishi, its video, and news portals, we believe Tencent will continue to be a fantastic platform on which we can further grow the game of basketball in China. The NBA always looks to innovate and, through this expanded partnership, the NBA and Tencent will leverage our capabilities to collectively provide fans with the best experience in new and innovative ways as well as to grow and promote our respective businesses.


2. You have a strong/stellar background in media in the West and this clearly was important for your role in the renewal with Tencent. What are the differences, challenges or opportunities that exist or present themselves in working in the Chinese media landscape? I would make a few observations: The Chinese market moves extremely quickly with regards to innovation and product development. Accordingly, we also need to be on our toes to ensure the NBA brand remains at the forefront across all platforms and technologies. We must continue to create compelling experiences for our fans.

This is still a very collaborative market where we can come together with the likes of Tencent to drive new experiences for our fans and create opportunities for growth. In other more mature markets, there is often more combative rhetoric and more of a zero-sum concept between content suppliers and distribution platforms.


How much of an impact is NBA 2k having to ensure you tap into the younger demographic and develop more interest in the sport from that generation? The NBA 2K Online Franchise is extremely popular in China and represents the number one PC-based online sports game in China with a registered user base that exceeds 40 million players. In addition, we just announced a partnership with Tencent to re-air the NBA 2K League Playoffs and Finals to continue to increase its fanbase.

We believe in introducing fans to the NBA in as many ways as possible. Some fans become engaged by playing the game; Others gravitate towards the entertainment value of the NBA. Likewise, young fans who become engaged with NBA 2K video games are more likely to want to engage with the NBA itself. 


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