- On October 4, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted, "Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong."
- Thursday's game in Shanghai went ahead as scheduled, Saturday's game is still on.
- China is now the largest overseas market in the NBA.
All Chinese companies have suspended their cooperation with the NBA in the wake of a controversial tweet from one of the association’s general managers. However, Thursday’s game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets in Shanghai went on as scheduled, and Saturday’s game between the two teams in Shenzhen will continue as usual as well. At the same time, the attitude of this incident on the Chinese network is one-sided.
On October 4, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted, “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” That tweet turned in to a public relations and business crisis for the NBA. China’s CCTV Sports Channel and Tencent have announced the suspension of NBA broadcasts in China. However, after some twists and turns, the NBA Preseason games in China went ahead as scheduled. The interactive events for fans and media, however, were cancelled.
To keep the two games, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver rushed from Tokyo to Shanghai to negotiate with China on Tuesday night. “There have already been fairly dramatic consequences from that tweet,” Silver said. However, Silver reiterated, “as a values-based organization that I want to make it clear . . . that Daryl Morey is supported in terms of his ability to exercise his freedom of expression.”
The NBA has become a brand with high values under Silver’s term as commissioner. In 2014, he announced an investigation into Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, fining him $2.5 million and banning him from the league for life for a history of racist statements. In 2017, Silver moved the All-Star Game from Charlotte due to a North Carolina law which was discriminatory against the LGBTQ community.
Facing China, however, the NBA released an official statement on its website, recognizing “that the views expressed by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey have deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable.” Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta even publicly stated that Morey does not represent the Rockets. At the moment, this is still not enough to calm the situation.
Give the NBA a little more time
China is a very appealing market for the NBA, especially for the Rockets. According to news reports, the club has between four and eight sponsors in China, accounting for one-fifth of the Rockets’ gross income. In the past season, 490 million Chinese fans watched NBA games on Tencent.
After the tweet, several companies completely cut ties with the Rockets and the NBA. By Thursday, all Chinese sponsors of the NBA had announced the end of their cooperation with the NBA.
China is now the largest overseas market in the NBA. According to Chinese media reports, the NBA’s annual net profit is about $1.8 billion. China’s annual contribution is between $150-200 million, accounting for about 10%. This ratio is expected to reach 20% in 2030.