While copy-pasting foreign business strategies into China often failed, Peking university business professor Jeffrey Towson makes an exception for the American NBA strategy, he writes on his LindenIn page. “A clever long-term business strategy,” he says.
These are boom times for sports in China. An increased national focus on health and fitness is coinciding with a big increase in entertainment consumption. And the State Council has set a goal of making the sports industry a 5 trillion yuan ($750 billion) sector by 2025.
So stadiums and fields are being built, European soccer teams are being purchased and Adidas is opening stores as fast as possible. Sportswear has even become the fashionable attire in China this year.
Against this backdrop, baseball is playing a long game to become a major spectator sport in China. And while America’s favorite pastime has long been all but ignored in the world’s most populous nation, this may finally be changing. Major League Baseball, the U.S. professional league, has been quietly and patiently making all the right moves in China.
The National Basketball Association is really the model for sports success in China. It is wildly popular, with over 30 million regular weekly viewers and more than 200 million tuning in for big games. Even President Xi Jinping has said he watches the NBA in his spare time. How basketball went from a mostly local activity to mass-market entertainment in China is an important business question.
The NBA’s success is frequently attributed to retired Chinese star Yao Ming. This is mostly incorrect. Certainly Yao was a unique phenomenon who catapulted the sport upwards but the NBA had already been in China for over 15 years before Yao joined the Houston Rockets in 2002. Michael Jordan, the Chicago Bulls and the Olympic “Dream Team” were already well known in China by that time.
The NBA’s success in China has actually been more about a clever long-term business strategy, which is what MLB appears to be replicating.
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