National Basketball Association Commissioner David Stern said he expects the league’s revenue in China to increase by at least 10 percent annually “as far as the future we can see.”
Rising demand for television and digital rights to NBA games may drive the league’s revenue to $150 million in China this year, Stern said in a Bloomberg Television interview yesterday in Shanghai, where the Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Clippers are scheduled to play a preseason game tomorrow. NBA viewership in China rose 18 percent last year, he said.
“We are slowly demonstrating our continued commitment to the market,” Stern said. “We are going to build a profitable business and give back.”
The play of former Houston Rockets star Yao Ming and two decades of NBA broadcasts have bolstered basketball’s popularity in China, fueling viewership, apparel sales and demand for players including Dwyane Wade of the Heat to endorse products in the world’s biggest market for cars, phones and computers. It’s also made China’s domestic league a destination for older players including Stephon Marbury and Tracy McGrady.
The defending-champion Heat and the Clippers have played in Beijing and Shanghai this past week as the NBA continues appearances that began in 2004. Tickets to the Beijing game on Oct. 11 that were originally sold for 6,000 yuan ($958) each were resold for as much as 20,000 yuan, news website Sohu.com reported.
The games, featuring players including LeBron James, Wade, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, come as the NBA is without a Chinese-born player for the first-time in 12 years. Yao retired in 2011 because of foot and ankle injuries and Yi Jianlian, who played for the Dallas Mavericks last season, signed a one-year deal with his former Chinese team in Guangdong province.
“The next Yao is LeBron James,” Stern said, “The fans of China are so smart and so sophisticated, that will lift LeBron, Dwight Howard or Kobe Bryant to be the next Yao.”
The emergence of Jeremy Lin, the first Taiwanese- or Chinese-American to play in the NBA, has also helped build interest. Lin, 24, became a global sensation last season after taking over as the starting point guard for the New York Knicks. He signed with the Rockets during the offseason.
Yao is also helping in retirement. In July, the 7-foot-6 Yao began a partnership with the NBA to start basketball and social-development programs for Chinese youth. Yao is also the owner of the Shanghai Sharks basketball team, which he purchased in 2009.
“We now have the best NBA spokesperson full time in his home country and in Shanghai, his home city,” Stern said.
The NBA is also expanding into other businesses. Stern said he is scheduled to meet tomorrow with Jack Ma, chairman of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., China’s largest e-commerce company. Stern declined to say what they’ll discuss.
The NBA also announced this past week that it had agreed to build a shopping and dining facility outside Beijing with Chinese developer Yatai Lanhai Investment Group. The 12,000-square-meter “NBA Center,” which also includes indoor basketball courts and an interactive games area, is scheduled to open in 2015.
“We stand to profit well and grow as the revenue from this source continues to grow,” Stern said of the facility.
— With assistance by Alfred Cang, and Margaret Conley