NBA Plans to Stream Games in China

By Phillip Pyle

Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Houston Rockets are no strangers to China. With China’s 1.3 billion population, a number that includes an estimated 400 million recreational basketball players, it’s easy to see the country’s potentially enormous market. But while most companies can merely dream about getting a slice of the Chinese pie, the Rockets already have eaten the whole thing. Through Yao Ming, whose games were broadcast live on Chinese television multiple times per week, the Rockets have essentially become China’s home team, attracting fans of all ages, genders and interest levels. Chinese companies, such as Peak and Qingdao, eager to get their advertising on television, snapped up courtside sponsorship deals and other visible-on-TV signage.

The National Basketball Association plans to increase streaming of league games online in China, NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver said today.

“Beginning this season, we’re going to be streaming a game a day” in a deal with Sina Corp. (SINA), owner of the Weibo microblogging service that is the largest Chinese equivalent of Twitter, Silver said at the Bloomberg Sports Business Summit hosted by Bloomberg Link in New York.

Sina, the NBA’s official Internet partner in China that first signed a deal with the league in 2010, also will have reporters covering each of the NBA’s 30 teams and produce a weekly show, said Silver, who succeeds David Stern as commissioner on February 1st.

The NBA is trying to increase interest in basketball in the world’s most populated country, where the league and its players are followed on Weibo by 60 million people.

During a recent trip to South Africa with the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders program, Silver said, he told league employees in Johannesburg that their focus should be “mobile first.”

“It’s not repurposed programming but programming designed for mobile,” Silver said, highlighting the time differences abroad that keep fans there from watching U.S.-based games. “That’s our opportunity in China, in Africa, and also India.”