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Volume 27 No. 13
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NBA Popularity In China Still Unclear Months After Firestorm

A new deal between Tencent and the NBA could be in jeopardy, which would be a major blow to both sides
Photo: NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

Halfway through the NBA season, it still is "unclear how much of the league's popularity and earning power in China has been lost" since Rockets GM Daryl Morey "sparked an international controversy" with his tweet about Hong Kong in October, according to McCollough & Yang of the L.A. TIMES. Chinese NBA fans -- a "massive and passionate group strategically targeted for the last two decades -- have been limited significantly in their opportunities to watch" the league. Tencent, which is in the last season of a five-year deal with the NBA for exclusive rights to stream NBA games in China, used to carry "every game as part of a subscription package" -- up to 12 a day. This season, Tencent has "cut its NBA subscription offerings, streaming only the one to three games per day for free." A source said that viewership of the complimentary offerings is "about the same as before" Morey's tweet. However, those games are "rarely interrupted by advertisements, a telling sign" that Chinese NBA sponsors who suspended their contracts "have not returned." State-run CCTV "stopped broadcasting" NBA games in October, and has "not resumed the service." The source said that a new Tencent-NBA deal "could be in jeopardy," which would be a "major blow to both sides." NBA Exec VP/Communications Mike Bass said the league looks "forward to continuing to work closely with Tencent." McCollough & Yang noted for the NBA, it has been "business as usual with the Chinese." All the league can do is "offer its content and wait for a thaw." Whether or when relations will resume their normal rhythm is "out of the NBA's hands" (L.A. TIMES, 2/10).