Defining Moment: David Stern Sends Literal Highlight Tapes to China
1987, China, -- Before Jay-Z sold CDs out of his trunk, before selling mixtapes became cool and then un-cool, commissioner David Stern was slinging highlight tapes overseas. In 1987, Stern traveled to China to strike a deal with Chinese state television provider CCTV that would introduce NBA content into Chinese homes. The agreement stipulated that the NBA would provide CCTV with weekly videotapes of game footage in turn for a percentage of advertising revenue (which was insignificant at the time). Naturally, stars like Larry Bird and Magic Johnson helped to increase viewership and advertising revenue, which led to NBA games being broadcasted on province and city-level broadcasters in 1990 in addition to CCTV.
Milestone #1: The NBA’s Content Philosophy
This strategy served as a preview to the NBA’s attitude towards content 30 years later. David Shoemaker, CEO of NBA China, draws the connection between the TV deal in 1987 and the association’s current content philosophy: “It’s been very important for the NBA since we started in the 1980s to make our games accessible to as broad an audience as possible.”
Today, the NBA’s copyright policy remains lax compared to other leagues. The NFL and MLB actively police the internet to remove any highlights while the NBA does not take action. The results are clear, however: The NBA's Instagram almost doubles the number of @MLB and @NFL combined.
The chief marketing officer of the NBA, Pam El, confirmed that the strategy to engage young fans is intentional.
"We know they are all over social media. And we know that if we’re going to market to this younger fan, we need to be where they are," said El. "It’s certainly not by accident that we’re the No. 1 league across all social platforms. That is completely by design.”
Milestone #2: The NBA Secures Strong Chinese and International Viewership
Chinese viewership has come a long way from needing to be convinced to play highlights by the commissioner himself.
The NBA became such a proven platform to reach Chinese consumers that during Yao Ming’s third year, Chinese Beer brand Yanjing Beer bought courtside advertising despite not even selling products in the U.S.
The association’s utilization of social isn’t restricted to just Americans. In 2016, it signed a partnership with Chinese social media platform Weibo that allowed it to post highlights and original programming. The NBA handle on Weibo had 33 million followers last year, compared to 27 million on Twitter.
In China, the NBA is six times more popular than the three largest European soccer leagues combined, and it’s not exactly lacking in other countries either. The international popularity of the league was affirmed at the 2017 Finals, where credentials were given to 265 international journalists representing 35 countries.