Silver views Tencent's resumed NBA coverage as a 'thawing' in China relations
Adam Silver, commissioner of North American basketball’s NBA, believes Chinese digital platform Tencent’s decision to resume its coverage of the league reflects an improvement in its relationships in China.
The NBA has been involved in a dispute with the country since October following a controversial tweet by a team executive in support of the political demonstrations in Hong Kong.
There was significant fallout from the tweet, with Silver’s apparent support for Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s right to speak out on the Hong Kong issue appearing to escalate the matter.
The incident put the league’s business in China at risk, which is reportedly worth around $4 billion, and Silver admitted the league had already suffered “substantial losses.”
It led to state broadcaster CCTV refusing to air any NBA games and Tencent initially suspending its coverage.
But the platform resumed streaming games from the start of this season and Silver views this as a positive sign in the league’s tense relations in China.
Speaking at Sports Business Journal’s Dealmakers conference in New York, he said: “[The] fact that games are airing on Tencent is a thawing.”
Tencent is described as the NBA’s largest partner outside the US and has had a long-standing relationship with the league after initially partnering in 2009.
In July, the two parties signed an expanded five-year partnership for the platform to continue as the NBA’s exclusive digital partner, in an agreement believed to be worth around $1.5 billion.
However, most of the NBA’s business dealings in China are still suspended, with CCTV still yet to broadcast a game this season.
Various NBA sponsors in China have suspended ties with the league, including Ctrip, the country’s biggest online travel website, and Dicos, the fast-food chain, which have joined Vivo, the smartphone maker, on the sidelines.
Anta, the Chinese sportswear brand, also halted contract renewal talks with the league.
Silver later admitted that Chinese authorities had requested the firing of Morey but said it was never an option for the league because of its values.
ESPN recently reported that the Houston Rockets have suffered the most, losing nearly $20 million in revenue as a result of their general manager’s tweet.
But the impact has been felt across the league with Chinese companies that had existing sponsorship deals with other NBA teams also notifying those franchises that they would be terminated until further notice.