Ant Group deal cements end to China boycott of NBA games broadcast

SHANGHAI, 22 Feb 2023:

NBA and Ant Group, an affiliate of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, yesterday announced a comprehensive, strategic partnership to create original online content and customised experiences for consumers in the Asian country.

In a statement, Ant Group said its popular digital payment platform Alipay and NBA would jointly develop original video content, joint membership, a mini-programme about the NBA, joint marketing campaigns, digital collectibles and social responsibility initiatives.

“Through our cooperation with Ant Group, more fans will be able to experience the excitement and passion of the NBA more conveniently than ever before,” said Michael Ma, CEO of NBA China – the entity that manages the North American professional basketball league’s business in the Asian country, said.

This agreement represents a new step for the NBA in the Chinese market, where it registered multi-million dollar losses after years of boycott by state-owned broadcaster CCTV and Chinese companies – following a team manager’s support toward protests in Hong Kong.

In early October 2019, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey posted a tweet – later deleted – with an image captioned “Fight For Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong” referencing pro-democracy protests in the territory amid violent clashes between police and some radical protesters.

The tweet sparked a campaign of intimidation against Morey followed by announcements by CCTV and Chinese technology giant Tencent, a major partner of ESPN and the NBA in China with a streaming deal worth US$1.5 billion over the next five years, that they would not broadcast the Rockets’ games.

Chinese e-commerce giants JD and TaoBao also removed Houston Rockets products from their virtual stores. Games were briefly aired in October 2020 before being removed again.

In March 2022, CCTV broadcast an NBA game for the first time since October 2020.