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UPDATED: December 22, 2008 NO.52 DEC.25, 2008
Full Court Press
The United States seems poised to take a big slice of China's burgeoning sports market as it expands the NBA brand

"The opportunity for basketball and the NBA in China is simply extraordinary," Stern said when NBA China was announced in January. "The expertise, resources and shared vision of these immensely successful companies will help us to achieve the potential we see in the region. The strategic investment from these companies will allow us to continue working with the General Administration of Sport and the CBA to grow our sport and emphasize, in both rural and urban Chinese communities, its contributions to fitness, healthy lifestyle and an appreciation of teamwork."

At the same event, Li Yuanwei, CBA Executive Vice President and Secretary General, said the CBA would continue to work with the NBA and investors to further develop basketball in China.

Marketing strategies

Apart from introducing excellent Chinese players like Yao, Yi and Sun Yue to expand its influence in China, the NBA is developing deeper marketing measures, nba.cn being among the most important.

Promoting Chinese NBA stars and holding NBA China games are only part of the local marketing effort. In the long term, the NBA has to build a platform to promote itself in China. The Internet is no doubt the most convenient way. Statistics show that the official NBA website draws almost one third of its traffic from Chinese fans, which indicates that a friendly, authoritative Chinese Internet platform will be one of the main tasks for NBA executives as they devise Chinese market strategy.

Analysts believe a website with a ".cn" domain name would not only create a closer relationship between the NBA and Chinese fans but also draw more visitors through promotional events on and off the court. In addition, the prompt increase in visitor traffic brought by nba.cn will attract more sponsors.

Shi Jian, Director of the Media Service Department at NBA China, said the NBA does not want to depend on Chinese media to broadcast games and hopes to target the Chinese audience more directly. "We will establish a real 'online NBA' that completely belongs to China, through which more Chinese fans will be covered by the aura of the NBA."

China's domestic basketball league, the CBA, has been attached to a commercial portal website; it does not own the "cba.cn" domain name. Some critics describe NBA China as "a giant crocodile diving in." Some even worry that NBA China will soon capture China's sports market with its efficient mode of commercial operation.

Xia Song, a well-known sports agent and basketball commentator in China, said that more Chinese companies are choosing to cooperate with the NBA while the CBA is left out in the cold due to a lack of competitiveness.

In addition to its commercial operation, the NBA hopes to cultivate basketball in China through the popularization of the sport, Chen said.

"What we are about to do is bringing basketball to the countryside as a lifestyle," he said. "We are willing to do some specific work together with the General Administration of Sport of China in popularizing the sport and training young cagers." For example, the NBA wants to help the CBA train basketball players by initiating some long-term training programs.

"The more the basketball population base develops, the more excellent young players like Yao can be discovered and trained," Chen said.

Chen has drawn up a grand blueprint for NBA China: to inspire passion for the NBA among teenagers in first-tier cities through NBA China games, and to encourage NBA aspirations among teenagers in second and third-tier cities through NBA Jam Van-a touring NBA basketball festival-and other events such as basketball training camps.

He said the NBA China exhibition games would continue next year, but an NBA-operated Chinese league holding games in NBA-style arenas will be the focus in the future.

Arenas in China

In mid-October, the NBA and AEG, one of the leading sports and entertainment presenters in the world, announced a partnership to build and operate arenas in at least 12 Chinese cities, including Shanghai and Beijing. These arenas will host either a pan-Asian basketball league or an NBA-operated Chinese league. In Shanghai, for instance, they will build an 18,000-seat arena to be completed in time for the World Expo in 2010.

Support will come not only from the NBA and AEG, but also local governments, agencies and domestic developers.

"We view China as an exciting marketplace with a growing appetite for sports and entertainment," said AEG President and Chief Executive Officer Timothy J. Leiweke. "This is fueled by an emerging middle class and a great need for state-of-the-art multi-use arenas that can accommodate NBA games, sporting events and world-class concerts."

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