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Volume 7 No. 149

People and Pop Culture

Derek Chang's first day as CEO of NBA China was June 1.
Photo: NBAE

DEREK CHANG is the CEO of NBA China. Chang, who joined the NBA on June 1, is based in the league’s Beijing office. His previous experience included roles with Scripps Networks Interactive and DIRECTV. This year’s NBA preseason featured the 25th and 26th NBA games in China, as the Dallas Mavericks and Philadelphia 76ers met Oct. 5 in Shanghai and Oct. 8 in Shenzhen. The NBA signed 17 partners that activated around those games, including presenting sponsor Vivo. Chang spoke to SBD Global about the NBA’s growth in China, the importance of grassroots development and what attracted him to his current position.

On the current popularity of basketball in China ...
Derek Chang: The sport as a whole is really riding a wave here. It's the NBA, it's the players, it's the teams. You can sense the excitement. The games have been sold out for quite a while. It's an overall vibe and feel and I don't think it's particular to one or two players. We are very committed to China, as you might imagine. Frankly, it's our biggest market outside the U.S. We have close to 200 people in total. We have significant offices in Beijing and Shanghai. As I've walked into this job over the last three months, I've recognized the level and quality of the talent that we have here. We've got probably some of the best people in the business in China. ... What we're doing here is really quite interesting. You've got thought leadership and innovation that's happening in different phases [in China] than you see in the U.S. and it's really quite cool. 

On the keys to the NBA's success in China ...
Chang: One is the long history in this country. 300 million people play the sport in this country. Our first game broadcast was in 1987 on CCTV. Our first live game broadcast was in 1994 on CCTV. We've had a long broadcast history in this country on clearly the most widely-distributed service in the country. You have to give former [NBA] Commissioner [David] Stern a lot of credit for having that foresight and being here as far back as he was. The combination of just having longstanding roots in the country along with our attention that we've paid to the market over the last 30 years has resulted in us being where we are. ... We have great partners in the market that have helped us continue to promote the game and the sport. We've had a 31-year relationship with CCTV, we've had a 21-year relationship with BesTV. Our viewership on CCTV this past season was over 4 million viewers per game. We had over 650 million cumulative viewers last season on CCTV. Our partnership with Tencent over the last three years has been phenomenal -- we averaged over 3 million views per game this past season. Some of the highlights: Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals had close to 30 million viewers on CCTV. We have a weekly primetime show, NBA Primetime, on CCTV that does close to 30 million viewers every Thursday night.

On what attracted him to his current role ... 
Chang: The NBA was looking for someone to head up the operation here. Given my relationships with a lot of the senior folks at the NBA, we started talking and as I got into the process, I realized this combined so many different things for me personally. It's sports, it's media, it's technology and it's China. Both my parents were born in China. Even though I was born and raised in the U.S., I have spent a fair amount of time here. I first came to China 30 years ago in college. ... A couple years after that, when I graduated, I came back to China and taught English. ... You put all that together and it was just a really compelling opportunity for me. This is just a fascinating market in terms of its sheer scale, the demographics, the use of technology, consumer behavior -- all that sort of stuff just presented me with an opportunity that was hard to say no to.

On his plans for continuing to develop the sport at the grassroots level ...
Chang: One of the areas of focus for us here -- which has already started but we want to continue to push -- is basketball development. This happens across multiple fronts. We inaugurated a Jr. NBA program here in China several years ago, and we're now serving 4,000 schools and 4 million students. That's really a health and wellness kick with the added benefit that hopefully kids get attracted to basketball. You take that up a level and we've got elite academies that we opened in China -- three that we opened in late 2016. ... We are opening another one in about a year-and-a-half, hopefully, in Mission Hills in Haikou. What we're trying to do on that front is continue to help develop the sport of basketball because long-term, that's a great thing for the NBA, that's a great thing for basketball. And you take that up even another level, and ideally we'd able to work with China Basketball and the CBA [Chinese Basketball Association] and help them. 

On the NBA's retail presence in China ...
Chang: Another area that we've focused on is expanding our physical presence. We've got over 200 [NBA Style] stores now in China. We've also opened three NBA Playzones, which are kids entertainment centers -- one in Shanghai, one in Beijing, one in Chengdu. Those are all great outposts for the NBA. We are in the process of opening an NBA Flagship store, hopefully early next year, in Beijing. ... You're starting to see the physical presence of the NBA getting deeper and deeper into China, which I think is great because it helps satisfy a lot of what the fans are looking for.

Hangin' With runs every Friday in SBD Global.

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