National Basketball Association Commissioner David Stern said Chinese investors inquiring about stakes in teams is a “very good thing” for the league as it seeks to boost sales in the world’s second-biggest economy.
The NBA’s revenue in China is growing by “double-digits” annually, bolstered by partnerships with Sina Corp. (SINA) and Tencent Holdings Ltd. (700) to stream more live games online, Stern said in an Oct. 16 interview in Shanghai, where the Los Angeles Lakers and the Golden State Warriors are set to play the second of two exhibition games in China tonight.
“We have been approached by, I will say Chinese investors, as we don’t count their money to see whether they are billionaires or multi-billionaires,” said Stern, declining to identify the potential investors. “If these markets want to invest in the NBA by buying goods, if they would like to buy television rights and certainly if they would like to buy franchises or invest in franchises, I think it’s a very good thing. I have been in favor of that for years.”
Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov became the first owner of an NBA team from outside North America when his $200 million purchase of the New Jersey Nets, since re-named the Brooklyn Nets, was approved in 2010. A plan for a Chinese investment group to buy a minority stake in the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team was abandoned that same year.
Wealth in China is soaring. The country’s top six billionaires have a combined net worth of almost $65 billion today, up about $19 billion so far this year, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
Stern, who will step down as commissioner in February, has overseen a surge in basketball’s popularity in China driven by two decades of game telecasts and the play of 7-foot-6 Yao Ming, who retired in 2011. The league is followed by 60 million users of Sina’s Twitter-like Weibo service, NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver, set to succeed Stern, said last month.
Sina will stream one live game daily on mobile devices in addition to a live daily game online. ZTE Corp., the third-largest smartphone vendor in China, this month became a sponsor of the Houston Rockets to boost its business profile.
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