The Chinese government has earmarked basketball as one of its key growth sports in the coming years, and with a push at the marketing and grassroots level by the NBA, the sport has never been more popular in the country. NBA stars like Kobe Bryant and Dwayne Wade, Shane Battier and Jeremy Lin have made massive marketing inroads in the country, while Stephon Marbury has made his move to the country bigger than anyone with his
Now another Chinese mega-star, Yao Ming, has lent his hand and his name to another venture, this one based more on the grassroots than on the NBA. It is called The Basketball Tournament (TBT), a winner take all five on five tournament open to anyone who can out together a team in the United States. With a mix of former elite college stars and players with NBA experience, the 64 team field, which concludes in New York with a final Tuesday night on ESPN, has captured the imagination and attention of thousands of basketball fans, and now may do the same for millions in China.
One Monday, the owners of the event announced a partnership with Yao Ming and Starz Sports International to develop TBT China. TBT China’s event will incorporate a fan first, social media driven, open basketball tournament model similar to the one now three years old in the US. China’s winning team will play into the American tournament in 2017, although the winning purse, which is an amazing $2 Million for 2016, has yet to be determined.
“Yao Ming and Starz Sports really are perfect partners to introduce TBT to the Chinese people,” said Jon Mugar, TBT founder and CEO in a Monday press release.. “Our vision of TBT has always been a global event that brings together cultures, styles, and people through social media and the international game of basketball. Ultimately we will have millions of people around the world, both players and fans, actually participating in an annual sports / media event. We are incredibly excited to work with Yao and his team on realizing this vision.”
The importing of Chinese interests into American sport has been booming in recent months, but brining an American event to the grassroots level in China can have its challenges as well as its opportunities. Does it have a chance to succeed?
“The partnership between ‘The Basketball Tournament’ and China is an exciting one with respect to extending the proliferation and growth of basketball in the country beyond the terrific work done by NBA China to the grass roots level,” said Ray Katz, a veteran sports marketer and professor at Columbia University. “This exciting and authentic event has some top U.S sports icons in marketing and production already involved, and Yao Ming’s participation will accelerate its expansion and provide compelling global organic content opportunities for current and future sponsors. Global expansion always is driven by the right partners in each country and in Yao Ming, this event has the best basketball ambassador China has to offer.”
How much will Yao be involved in the running and marketing of the event? All of that is yet to be determined. “TBT is a powerful international platform that leverages the popularity of social media to create unbelievable interaction between fans and their teams. The open tournament format elevates grassroots basketball to a higher level,” he added in a release on Monday.
The goal for TBT would be to use the power of the Yao brand internationally, along with the marketing expertise in country of Starz Sports and “Team Yao, ” to take an American event and tailor it to a Chinese marketplace. If it succeeds will be a multi-million dollar question, but for now, it is a new and intriguing example of how sport, especially basketball, is becoming a sports business unifier for two massive markets which are growing closer every day.