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China slam dunks its own NBA business
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The National Basketball Association has formed a Chinese arm, NBA China, to enhance the professional league's presence in the country.


Five strategic investors -- ESPN, the US sports cable television channel, Bank of China Group Investment, Legend Holdings Limited, Li Ka Shing Foundation and China Merchants Investments -- will acquire a total of 11 percent of the company for a combined US$253 million in preferred equity.


Timothy Chen, a former chief executive officer of Microsoft China, is the CEO of the new company.


"NBA China will develop a wide range of businesses to expand its presence, including Internet, entertainment and new NBA franchise stores," Chen told Shanghai Daily yesterday in a telephone interview.


The company's revenue will maintain a double digit growth as well as its scale of employment -- it now has about 100 staff in China, he said.


"The company now focuses on online live broadcasts, the online community and online services on mobile phones," Chen said.


The establishment of NBA China will not change the way it operates at present as in its cooperation with local TV stations, he said.


The NBA enjoys great popularity in China, where it became the first American sports league to play games in 2004.


"More games can be expected in China after last year's exhibition games in Shanghai and Macau," Chen said.


NBA has become one of the most influential foreign games in China after four local players Wang Zhizhi, Mengke Bateer, Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian began playing in the NBA. The absence of these players can slash the NBA's TV ratings in China.


In November, the game between the Milwaukee Bucks and Houston Rockets drew massive TV ratings in November as Yao played against Yi for the first time in NBA history.


The game aired on 19 Chinese mainland television stations and was available on two Webcasts and on video-enabled wireless phones.


The NBA has worked for years to expand its presence in China, as there are an estimated 300 million people playing basketball.


NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver called NBA China a "partnership" with the CBA, where Yao and Yi both played before moving to the NBA.


"We're anticipating that basketball will be one of the hottest venues at this summer's Olympics and in fact this may be the ideal launching pad for an expanded Chinese league," Silver said.


NBA Commissioner David Stern said in a statement on Monday that "the opportunity for basketball and the NBA in China is simply extraordinary."


"The expertise, resources and shared vision of these immensely successful companies will help us to achieve the potential we see in the region," Stern said.


"The strategic investment from these companies will allow us to continue working with the General Administration of Sports and the Chinese Basketball Association to grow our sport and emphasize, in both rural and urban Chinese communities, its contributions to fitness, healthy lifestyle and an appreciation of teamwork," Stern said.


Li Yuanwei, CBA's vice president and secretary general, said the NBA and the CBA can expand upon their past cooperation to further develop basketball in China with the support of the strategic investors and additional investments in China.


(Shanghai Daily January 16, 2008)

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