NBA eyes stronger marketing in China

Updated: November 1, 2003, 2:40 AM ET
Associated Press

TOKYO -- The NBA will soon open an office in Shanghai to strengthen its marketing position in China, where the Rockets' Yao Ming has generated great interest in the league.

"We think our future in Asia is very bright," Stern said at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan. "With Yao Ming coming to the NBA from China, that is going to start an entirely new phenomenon in China and throughout Asia."

Stern is in Japan for the two-game series between the Seattle SuperSonics and the Los Angeles Clippers. Seattle won 109-100 Thursday, and on Saturday morning the Sonics' Rashard Lewis scored 50 points to lead the Sonics' victory in a 124-105 thriller.

Chinese national TV broadcasts two NBA games a week. Fans in Shanghai, where Yao starred before going to the NBA, can see as many as six a week. Another Chinese player, Wang Zhizhi, plays for the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Houston Rockets and Sacramento Kings will play exhibition games in China next year in Shanghai and Beijing.

The commissioner noted that NBA games were pulled off the air in China after U.S. planes mistakenly bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in 1999 during the NATO air war to drive Yugoslav forces out of Kosovo. The presence of Yao in the NBA has helped restore good relations.

"People in China are learning about life in the U.S. through Yao," Stern said. "And people in the U.S. are learning about China through Yao Ming."

Stern again spoke on the NBA's European plans. Some NBA teams could have training camps in Europe as soon as 2005.

"I think there is a reasonable chance that we'll see an NBA team or teams in Europe within a decade," Stern said.

With many Europeans already playing in the NBA, much of the groundwork has been done. But Stern said several obstacles must be overcome before teams are placed in Europe.

"Europe does not have the buildings of the caliber we're used to in the NBA," Stern said. "And there is still a lot of room to develop fan affinity. We know that Europeans will pay a lot to see soccer games but we need to make sure that the model will fit with the NBA. Forty-one games is a lot more than one exhibition game."

Stern has led the NBA for nearly 20 years, a period of tremendous growth and international exposure for the game.

"We recognize we have more markets untapped than tapped," he said. "If you get to be No. 2 in a country, there's a good chance you'll get to be No. 1 and that's a big part of out philosophy."

Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press