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NBA China CEO: Joe Tsai will help Nets in China, but it’s all about winning

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CNBC

In a report for Forbes and tweets, Shlomo Sprung quotes the head of NBA China as saying Joe Tsai is likely to help the Nets build a fan base in China, but winning — and “marketable” players — is what will drive their popularity.

“I think what’s compelling for them is quality basketball and I think quality players,” said Derek Chang, CEO of NBA China, when Sprung asked if the Nets can become China’s team. “Certain players, as you might expect, are probably not that different from the ones in the United States that really resonate.

“I think having Joe as part of that mix is additive to the ability of the Nets to gain that sort of prominence. But I think at the heart of it, it’s going to be having a good basketball team.”

Tsai, who is now a member of the NBA China board, was born in Taiwan and is also a Canadian citizen. He is, more significantly, one of the co-founders and executive vice-chairman of Alibaba, the giant China-based e-commerce giant. Chang and Tsai have known each other since their undergraduate years at Yale.

Chang noted that in one area, he is already working with Tsai on the league’s presence in China.

“It’s nice having someone you already know but who is also clearly an expert in a field on your board,” Chang told Sprung. “And he has a vested in making sure NBA China succeeds.”

Sprung cites the success of the $4 billion enterprise with a series of staggering statistics, one of which stands out. Among the nearly 1.4 billion people who call China home, 640 million of them watched some kind of NBA programming over the course of the 2017-2018 season, per league figures.

As Sprung points out, that’s twice the population of the United States.

CCTV, China’s state TV monopoly, averaged 25 million viewers per game for the NBA Finals. Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals between Golden State and Houston, 29.4 million tuned in on CCTV and another 10 million watched on Tencent, the big digital provider that has a long history with the league. In the U.S., the average was 17.7 million.

Regular season games this season average four million viewers on CCTV and three million on Tencent even though an 8 p.m. game in New York tips off at 9 a.m. the next day in China.

The league estimates that it has 180 million social media followers in China, and its flagship weekly show NBA Primetime has averaged 28 million viewers per episode over the last three years.

Chang told Sprung that Tencent employs as many people devoted to the NBA in China as the league itself.

With so few of the U.S. digital companies able to get a foothold in China, the league has made deals with big Chinese players, like Tencent, Youku and Baidu as well as social media sites like Weibo or Douyin,

Tsai, Chang said, is “clearly very interested in what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. And I think he’s been extremely available in terms of helping us think through the future.

“A lot of that revolves not just around digital content but then e-commerce and how we can apply those sorts of things to different business models.”

Tsai of course remains a minority owner of the Nets, having purchased 49 percent of the team last spring. He won’t assume control of the franchise until the 2021-22 season. In the meantime, his presence has grown around Barclays Center, increasingly attending games, as he did Monday night. Moreover, he purchased the New York Liberty of the WNBA in January, which will give him an even bigger voice in the league.

Tsai’s big debut is likely to be next season’s China Games when the Nets will travel to Shanghai and Shenzen for preseason games with the Lakers. Chang wouldn’t comment on whether Tsai’s China connection will help the Nets recruit free agents. Maintaining his neutral stand on the prospects of NBA teams, all Chang would say was, “All I can hope is that we have marketable players when they come to China.”