How the NBA is taking over China | CNBC Sports

January 27, 2020 | Articles, Blog | 100 Comments

How the NBA is taking over China | CNBC Sports

Kobe Bryant. Kobe Bryant? A lot of
Kobe fans here in China. I’ve watched the NBA
since 20 years ago. It’s eye-opening, and
kind of surreal. 1.4 billion basketball-crazed people in a
country and an economy that’s growing. Thirty million viewers for the finals
of the western conference last year, it’s unbelievable the passion that people
have for the sport and for the NBA in China. I’ve come to the world’s most populous country
where basketball has become big business. The NBA’s fanbase here
has grown massively, and the league is opening experience
stores and hosting preseason games. But I want to find out how one of America’s most loved
sports became the top sport in an unexpected country. China is the most important
international market for the NBA. This is the 26th game
to take place here, but its success in this country didn’t happen
overnight and it certainly wasn’t an accident. More than half of China’s
estimated 1.4 billion people watched NBA programming
on TV in the 2017-2018 season. China’s become the biggest international
market for NBA merchandise sales. And the NBA is the most popular
sports league on social media here, reaching more than 100 million users across its
accounts and boasting video streams in the billions. If there’s a second center of the
basketball universe, it’s China. That’s Scott, he’s the CEO
of the Philadelphia 76ers, who’s brought his team over to the
booming Chinese city, Shenzhen. It’s all part of a preseason game to promote the NBA
in China, where they’re playing the Dallas Mavericks. The world is getting flatter and
flatter, and smaller and smaller. And having teenagers of my own, you can
interchange someone from Shanghai and Philadelphia, and just rotate them,
and you wouldn’t know the difference. I mean, we listen to the same music,
we watch the same basketball, we follow the same trends,
it’s pretty incredible. The NBA started bringing teams here in
2004, in an effort to expand the game, and now 17 teams
have made it over. But this is the first time the
76ers have played in China. My favorite team is the Lakers,
but today I like the six, six. The Sixers, yeah, Philadelphia Sixers. My favorite team is
the Boston Celtics. Boston Celtics, but you’re wearing
a Dallas Mavericks jersey? Because my boyfriend loves it. Is this the boyfriend? Yes. So he made you put on
the Mavericks jersey? Yes. There are only two preseason
games taking place in China. Here, and in Shanghai. And given the sheer size of China’s population,
the demand for tickets is high. This couple came to see their first ever NBA game,
and tell me they paid more than $300 per ticket. And the knowledge of the
fans here goes deep. My favorite player is Kevin Garnett. So I love Boston because it’s the
first NBA championship of him. Many fans I talk to, don’t just watch
basketball. They play it, too. It’s good for my health. According to the NBA, more than 300
million people play basketball in China. I can play the basketball with my
friends, it’s fun man, it’s really fun. So how did basketball
become so big here? In 1979 the Washington Bullets became the
first U.S. professional sports team to visit China. The trip took place just months after President Carter
moved to establish more favorable relations with China. We’ve had a long-term view. We’ve been here since the 80s thanks to David
Stern and his persistence. It’s not an accident. In the late 80s, David Stern,
the NBA’s then-commissioner met with China’s state-run television network,
CCTV, making deals to get the games on air. Fast forward to 1994, when China’s central broadcasting
network aired every game of the NBA Finals, the first time all seven games
had been shown live in China. Eight years later, Yao Ming was
drafted by the Houston Rockets. This was a big deal for propelling
the NBA’s growth in China. Ming was born in Shanghai and
had a natural following in China. His first game he played against
Shaquille O’Neal and the Lakers, garnered more than 200
million viewers in China. That same year, the NBA opened an office
in Beijing. From there, things really took off. The first NBA game in China took place in 2004.
And in 2008, NBA China was officially founded. In 2014, NBA China and the
Chinese Ministry of Education partnered to grow basketball in elementary
and middle schools across the country. Now, more than four million students are participating in
classes using the curriculum they developed together. And in 2016, Lizhang Jiang bought a
stake in the Minnesota Timberwolves making him the first Chinese
owner of an NBA team. The NBA formed deals with some of China’s biggest
tech companies, and in order to truly understand the Chinese market, you first have to understand
the importance of the mobile phone. When you look at the U.S. fan versus the
Chinese fan, what is the key difference? A Chinese fan has to watch in the morning
and the American fan watches at night. This is Derek, he’s the
CEO of NBA China. And China is known as
a mobile-first market. People can watch them on their mobile phones very
easily and that’s what they do and they interact with it. And to see the amount of traffic that’s going on,
not just in terms of the viewing of a game, but on social media, we have close to 150
million social media followers in China alone. In 2015 NBA formed a deal with Tencent,
one of China’s largest internet companies. The deal, which is reportedly
worth at least $500 million, allows Tencent to carry games,
highlights and more on its platforms. And this meant even
bigger reach for the NBA. That’s because Tencent is the owner of WeChat, which
now boasts more than one billion monthly active users. Meanwhile Weibo, a popular
Chinese microblogging platform has more than 400 million
monthly active users. The NBA’s deal with Weibo allows
it to deliver game highlights, player interviews, photos, stats,
and behind the scenes events. Just take a look at Jeremy Lin. He’s considered
China’s most popular current NBA player online. I say current because, well, Kobe Bryant
is actually the most followed NBA star. He may have retired, but
his legacy lives on here. This social media surge in popularity
of the NBA, the teams, and players is prompting some to step up the
way they market themselves in China. The connectedness is understood by Ben Simmons,
Joel Embiid, Markelle Fultzz and Dario Saric. They have Weibo accounts,
they have WeChat accounts. That’s the way to connect with fans one on
one and gives us such a competitive advantage for an organization like the Philadelphia
76ers, cause we create content and we can get wide and distribute it really
quickly and through a lot of different ways. In fact, Scott tells me he’s hiring
Mandarin-speaking Chinese staff. He hopes to have up to six new employees that
will distribute content across Chinese networks. It’s a cultural revolution, and the Chinese fans
seem to be very interested in what is new, what is interesting and what is relevant,
and NBA players are new, interesting and relevant. It’s important to note that China isn’t the only place
where the NBA is operating outside of the U.S. The NBA says it considers itself an
international organization already. 25% of NBA players are international.
It has offices in 13 markets worldwide. And more than 60% of NBA digital visitors are
actually coming from outside North America. It’s just that China is proving to be
just too lucrative to not prioritize. Everyone knows how important this place is,
and how important these people are to the game. Kemba Walker is a player for the Charlotte Hornets.
He’s come to China for a few days to promote the game. I met him in Beijing at a
new NBA Playzone store. It’s one of several that have
recently opened up in China, with the aim of bringing the NBA
experience to a younger crowd. It’s located inside a mall, and this is
the second one to open inside China. If you want to come inside, it’ll cost about
$25 for one adult and one child for a day pass. But there’s also annual
passes available as well, which gives you unlimited access to playing
basketball and a variety of other games, that are meant to completely immerse
you inside the experience of the NBA. He likes James very much. I met this NBA fan who’s brought his five-
year-old son to the event to meet Walker. If you don’t really get a chance to come out here,
you wouldn’t really understand how much they love the game of basketball and how
much respect they have for basketball. So how will it continue to grow? It’s just a very compelling product right now, between the
media that we have, a lot of the social media we have, opening things like PlayZone, we continue to
take the brand and bring it frankly to our fans. Chang says he hopes to eventually
expand Playzone stores globally. While the admission fee to come
inside certainly isn’t cheap, it’s hard to imagine the NBA will generate
sizeable profits from the Playzone stores. But that might not
be the point, either. After all, the benefit of exposing someone at a
young age and possibly acquiring a lifelong fan, could be worth way
more in the long run. How big can it get? It can be huge. There’s definitely
a lot of opportunities, it’s only getting bigger, it’s only going
to get bigger and better from here. Yeah, it will.

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  1. Froggy Noddy

    2:22 saved the guy lol.


    hahah tinalo pa ang PBA na matagal na sa industry of sports . sa pilipinas lng pinag uusapan ang PBA haha

  3. Eduardo Tangsang

    Basketball struggling with viewiership in US making desperate attempts to enter Chinese market.

  4. Yogie Bastian Kurniawan

    2:22 he has no loyalty

  5. HOBBIT cadillac

    the nba will face the same fate as football in europe chinese people will offer so much money to elite athletes they will shift over to the subprime chinese leagues

  6. FunSoup

    What's Trending?

    T-Series vs Pewdiepie???

  7. Steven Landriault

    "The world is getting flatter and flatter" okay there bud

  8. Le Tu Hieu Thien

    2:21 "i like the sex" lol

  9. LandofLions Abyssinia


  10. Onyeka Onyebuchukwu

    Damn India, what happened?

  11. vivek sharma

    They'll get over it once they Qualify again For Fifa world Cup

  12. I Love The Way U lie

    I thought soccer is the number 1 sports in china.

  13. Lucky Valera


  14. kenneth camarin

    Im frm pilipinas ilove pba

  15. Kaan K

    NBA should expand more in Europe as a European they really don’t spend much effort promoting the league here and I wish I could see an nba game played outside the US and UK

  16. Muhammad Swalih

    NBA is just some huge guys playing around in a small area

  17. Jayson Martin

    but jeremy lin is taiwanese

  18. Socialism Capitalism

    NBA respect chinese market and fans

  19. Jingkui Song

    Michael Jordan,Japanese animate "slam dunk",Yao Ming,three main factors make Chinese craze about basketball and NBA.

  20. Publius Maximus Manlius

    Great, now American basketball teams are leaving for China.

  21. Sand prince

    More like China is taking over NBA 😂

  22. Juan Renteris

    i admire my chinese brothers.. chinese people always so chill

  23. Ihtisham Faiz

    2:22 uh… today i like the ses, ses, sex

  24. Michael

    I like Sex too.

  25. liu travis

    4 Names in sequence, MJ, And1, Kobe and Yao Ming, after all it's a great pro product of a worldly popular sport, people just need a reason to start, and the name MJ is not a bad reason. I still remember the day MJ had his "last game", y'all know which game it is, at least 1/3 of the urban boys skip school to watch. And from another perspective, basketball is a sport requires very little to run, a half court of sort, a makeshift basket, a bunch of friends and you are good to go, when you're a nation with hugh city population here and there, basketball is really the easiest for people to have a sport of their own.

  26. Pedro Salazar

    Basketball is the only credible American sport, the rest are jokes

  27. Eric Chen

    Jeremy Lin is from taiwan

  28. Busko & Pilipino

    Thank yao

  29. Kyrie Clutch GOATving

    China also taking over SEA

  30. Ian JSDD11

    you forgot the philippines

  31. SumThing81

    I dont like say that but Nba gotta thanks Curry, because of him Nba got popular

  32. Jack Lehman

    Stop American sports encourage traditional Asian and Chinese sports stop giving money to the Americans

  33. Grandmastersexy

    China basketball crazy??are you kidding me??thay are counterfeit crazy…go to the philippines and you will see what is craziness is all about.

  34. once upon

    10 to 20 years from now you going to see more chinese player in the nba .

  35. mobile4 legends

    While china still making fake NBA jerseys and Jordans…

  36. mark luis

    Is basketball bigger than soccer in China.

  37. mark luis

    Are the Toronto Raptors big in China?

  38. Asianrepresent s

    I was born in the late 80s and the popularity of basketball started blooming with our generation. I sum it up to 3 factors. No.1 huge disappointment from Chinese national soccer team, their constant poor performance had broke so many fans heart and driven ppl away from participating soccer. (It used to be the biggest sport in China). No. 2 Japanese animate “slam dunk” inspired hundreds of Millions of kids to play basketball before Yao Ming made his landing at NBA. No. 3 with the first 2 factors laying its foundation for basketball to grow in China, Yao Ming pushed the sport to a national level where the entire country was watching his performance at NBA.

  39. Rudie Obias

    Do you think the NBA would ever expand to China? Like a team in Shanghai or something?

  40. Maple Ye

    The league should thanks Yao.

  41. Ted Young

    Because there will be more Chinese player who is NBA level!💪

  42. Fishy Net

    More like How China is taking over NBA..

  43. Paul Lo

    uhhh jack ma owns part of the nets

  44. Rurouni Kenshin

    '' my favourite team is Lakers but today I like sex…'' 2:17

  45. Joey Rebuyon

    China FAKE NBA

  46. Bro. Tolliver


  47. shad m

    We need a basketball Champions League

  48. Aarón

    Here from Perú and the nba is most exciting league.

  49. BARZ MY-G

    The NFL is salty😡

  50. Einl Einl

    …say everything and twist words…football (i.e that is soccer) is still the most popular sport

  51. Kaijun Jiang


  52. Adam

    "i wear dallas jersey because my boyfriend love it"

  53. Jeff kennedy

    Please don't let Chinese racism take over NBA

  54. Benjamin Baron

    Philiipines is more basketball dense!

  55. Huey Freeman

    I'm glad it's not the NFL. It's a brain Dead sport.

  56. David Johnson

    7:58 $25 to get in the NBA zone? That's incredibly expensive you realize you could eat for about week on that amount of money in China?

  57. Stringer Bell

    Basketball is the greatest sport in the world

  58. hector andrade

    "it's a cultural revolution"… probably not the best way to describe it

  59. Nightcor EDM

    Im half north korean chinese and i like basketball

    EDIT Basketball is a cool game with good fan base

  60. Cokebyparis

    NBA is killing it, I really liked how this pre-season they had international teams play against NBA teams

  61. Micah Lee

    We call all thank the man who never gets credit for inventing the sport james naismith

  62. Siqi Lin

    All these numbers are grossly exaggerated. For example, there is not possibility that 300 million Chinese are playing basketball. 3 millions are the most.

  63. Learn&teach2Learn

    Too bad Chinese are racist against blacks yet they idolize NBA players.

  64. Zeke Zi Qin Khor


  65. Adnan A

    People go where the money is

  66. M A K O

    china is what made the nba the bigest sport int he world- pushing into china was sterns best move- and put them above the nfl and mbl

  67. fitofito1001

    This news report is ridiculous. It’s not possible all 1.4 billion Chinese are crazy about nba and nor possible 300 million Chinese play basketball. These numbers are overstated by at least 50 times. I start to understand why trump keeps saying fake news

  68. Yu G

    D&G,what did you learn?

  69. Trang Pham

    Like for NBA TV broadcasting in Australia,

    200 million views from China
    Yao Ming got drafted first

    What about Ben Simmons??

    Australia Population: 25ish million
    China Population: 1 billion something

    Ok they won't make a profit, but we really want to watch the NBA

    You have the NBL


  70. Truth

    Slam Dunk might have made it popular

  71. Lincoln Lu

    Uh… Mao Zedong organized games during his reign as well to promote physical fitness. It's been fairly popular in China as a sport since the 80s and 90s. MJ was huge.

  72. I WANT MY SLAW!!

    So basically, they forced the NBA onto China.

  73. Joshua Chio

    Didn’t even say the Toronto Raptors😭😭

  74. Kalela

    Surprised there are Celtics fans there. I would assume most fans there are Rockets and Lakers fans.

  75. Wei Zhang

    The people from all over the world didn’t know in china we watch TV always for Free including NBA . The national public media bought the right for the people, not like in the western media always let you pay for those TV . I was surprised in the USA during The Olympic Games people have to pay for the media, otherwise they can’t see the LIVE, but in China we always can watch the Olympic Games for free . We are national media instead of private media.

  76. Ex Muslim

    i think CCP has paid to view only good side of china

  77. Jerome Clemente

    Nba will be popular in China until a Chinese soccer Superstar comes.

  78. Rohit Singh

    NBA will be entering INDIA soon

  79. Austin Hill

    "it's a cultural revolution" lol nice one

  80. Gardenflower

    Meanwhile India has IPL, KPL, PBL,ISL. China should start playing cricket along with India.
    2 billion ppl will watch those games.

  81. Watchman On the Wall

    With 1. 4 Billion people there has to be at least 10 potential Jeremy Lins there.

  82. Fitz

    @1:43 in background, only NBA fans will know…lol

  83. Y S

    Hypocrisy. Money talks.

  84. ukyee

    Jordan opened the market, Yao made it boom.

  85. Ridho Wiranatakusumah

    Basketball is popular in indonesia

  86. someguy604

    Cmon, Linsanity in a Knicks jersey had to have impacted that timeline as much as Yao Ming did.

  87. thomas miller

    Hello CNBC please do a story on SOCCER IN CHINA. There is a new trend/interest in soccer next to NBA!

  88. Jason Vyzer

    With all of the youth programs in China, it's only a matter of time before we see a true super star coming out of these programs. Yao Ming was the first, but he definitely won't be the last.

  89. kroos giro

    If there is another yao ming type player to come out of China but instead of a center maybe pg, sg, or sf that isn't injury prone it would really take off.

  90. Hulagu Mongke

    China players are suck in basketball, lost all matches in easy group for hosting the world cup in China and China will not represent in Tokyo Olympic….hahaha

  91. The Granny Bangerz

    So does the NBA have deals set up with the CCP?


    2:01 🥵she fine

  93. Paula Allen

    America needs to boycott the NBA

  94. sj su

    It is so ironic that it just took 3 days for China to ban so called MOST POPULAR SPORTS LEAGUE. HAHA

  95. Jimmy William

    Hope more bin laden bombed the pentagon. 9/11 was a misunderstanding caused by different political orientations. —By Freedom Of Speech.

  96. Balázs Radics

    How the NBA is taking over China? it't the other way around, mate!

  97. CardBoard Box

    Literally taking over NBA, the irony

  98. Owen Mulder


  99. oliver shaw

    Baskeball is not the most popular sport in China soccer is just to remind our American friends

  100. Nal

    More like "How China is taking over the NBA".

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