As the whole of China celebrated the new year at the end of January, the 30 teams that make up the NBA were sensing an opportunity. They decided to woo the Chinese NBA fan in their own way.
Nine of the teams had onsite celebrations during their game days that caught the eye of Chinese community. The Sacramento Kings and the Washington Wizards have committed to China theme nights during the season.
Two other teams, Philadephia76ers and Minnesota Timberwolves are trying to break into the Chinese market. Jiang Lizhang is Minnesota’s first Chinese minority owner and that could help them understand the market well.
The Cleveland Cavaliers celebrated the Chinese New Year by educating the local fans in the US with Chinese culture.
As NBA looks to expand its footprint, it is increasingly training is guns on China and India. Associating with the cultural events in China is paying it rich dividends.
The results are already showing in China. Nearly 12 million people streamed the highly anticipated game between the Cavaliers and Warriors last month on Tencent, the NBA’s exclusive digital partner in China.
During last year’s Chinese New Year celebration, the number of unique television viewers reached a record 295 million, an 8 per cent increase for CCTV’s live broadcast from the year before, according to NBA China.
During the Chinese New Year in January, Amobee’s Brand Intelligence Platform noted that NBA, WeChat Air Jordan, Disneyland and McDonalds were the most engaging five brands for the festive period.
With the encouraging results, new ways of engaging with the Chinese fans could drive following for the NBA teams this year.
NBA’s efforts to woo the Indian audience are more modest, though. It has recently selected a group of two dozen people who will receive training at the first NBA Academy in India, scheduled to open in April.
NBA also has a schools programme in India, now into its third year, in which 2200 institutions from across the country had participated last year. Several NBA stars have travelled to India for train the trainer programmes.
While India is still to have a basketball following, the Chinese model of mixing sport with culture seems to be working well.
NBA clocked $5.18 billion in revenues for 2015-16, up from $4.79 billion the year before. But China accounts for less than 10 per cent of its revenues but is the NBA’s fastest growing market. It hopes its investments in India will pay off similarly in the long term.