NBA in $225m media rights and merchandise deal with Japan's Rakuten
North American basketball's NBA today announced a major commercial deal with Rakuten, under which the Japanese e-commerce company has become the exclusive online distributor of live games in the country.
The multi-year partnership, Rakuten's first with a North American professional league, is worth around $225 million, according to reports.
Rakuten TV, the firm's video-on-demand service, will show nine games per week via its subscription package in the 2017-18 season, which gets under way on 17 October, while subscribers to NBA League Pass will have access to all games. Fans in Japan can access NBA League Pass through NBA.com, the NBA App or Rakuten TV.
The NBA has traditionally been shown in Japan by the likes of public-service broadcaster NHK and pay-TV's WOWOW, and Rakuten said it will likely negotiate a sub-licensing deal for some games with those networks.
As part of the commercial agreement, Rakuten will sell select NBA and team merchandise globally on its e-commerce channels, while Rakuten Viber, the company's instant messaging platform, will be an official platform for the NBA, giving access to league content to more than 900 million users.
Speaking at the announcement of the partnership in Tokyo, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said: "Rakuten is one of the world's most innovative companies and an ideal partner for the NBA. Our new relationship with Rakuten speaks to the appetite that our passionate fans in Japan have for live NBA games and content, and we look forward to working with Rakuten to provide the most comprehensive NBA coverage to date."
Silver said the partnership could lead to a return of regular-season NBA games to Japan, which was the first country outside North America to have the honour when the Phoenix Suns and Utah Jazz opened the 1990-91 season in Tokyo.
Japan has hosted 12 NBA games, but none since 2003.
Silver said: “I think it’s important that people here have an opportunity to experience real live, actual NBA basketball. And I think it’s also important for our teams that they have the opportunity to travel as well, because there’s a lot more to sports than just playing the game. It brings cultures together and I think even in terms of the U.S. and Japan relationship, it’s very important for goodwill.”
Last month, Rakuten signed a three-year deal with the Golden State Warriors to have its logo on the jerseys of the reigning NBA champions. That deal is worth a reported $20 million per season.
It is also the shirt sponsor of Spanish soccer giants Barcelona, paying €220 million ($259 million) over four years in a contract that came into effect this season.
Meanwhile, the New York Knicks today became the 17th of the 30 NBA teams to sign a jersey sponsor, announcing a deal with website builder Squarespace.
The company’s logo will feature on the left shoulder of the team’s kit from the 2017-18 season onwards, as part of the league's three-year pilot programme.