Yao's departure and NBA's future in China

Updated: 2011-07-12 15:10


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As China's basketball icon Yao Ming is set to announce his retirement from the NBA on July 20, a once burgeoning Chinese basketball market seems to be at risk. "Will Yao Ming's departure endanger the NBA in China?" asks an article in CNN.com.

Citing a Monday poll on Sina Weibo, China's answer to twitter, the article says 57% of the respondents said they would stop watching the NBA after Yao's retirement. For the NBA, which is now facing a lockout because of salary disputes between its players and owners, "the exodus of China’s loyal NBA fan base could be devastating."

China is currently the largest market for the NBA outside the US, drawing on average 30 million viewers every week. China also contributes about half of the NBA's international revenue, says NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver.

An estimated 300 million people in China play basketball, which serves as a high market for ventures such as NBA China, valued at roughly $2.3 billion, according to a Goldman Sachs report.

Basketball's popularity is also attested by China's social media users, says the article. On Sina Weibo, the NBA has 4.35 million followers - almost twice as many as it does on Twitter.

Despite growing interest in the sport, there is no doubt that Yao was the centerpiece of the NBA’s allure in China. His personal brand is valued at more than $1 billion, the AFP reported, and is consistently supported by endorsement deals and regular media appearances.

At least for now, there is no heir apparent to China's basketball throne, the article claims. With just one remaining Chinese national in the NBA - Yi Jianlian - it's difficult to predict whether the league will maintain its popularity in the world’s most populous nation.