World / Reporter's Journal

NBA New Year uniforms woo Chinese fan base for New Year and more

By Chang Jun (China Daily USA) Updated: 2015-02-24 12:09

The Spring Festival - the most important Chinese traditional holiday - which fell on Feb 19 this year, is celebrated not only by Chinese people worldwide. It has become a synonym for lucrative business opportunities and a platform for new ideas. This year it's basketball's turn.

On Friday night, the day after the Chinese New Year, I attended an NBA game, the Golden State Warriors vs. San Antonio Spurs. What otherwise would have been just another boisterous NBA game of the season was made special by the unveiling of the Warriors' first-ever uniforms featuring graphic designs celebrating the Chinese New Year.

Sitting in the Oracle Arena, I was also thrilled to see flashed across the big screen messages in both Chinese and English welcoming the Year of the Ram and wishing everyone good luck and fortune. Several times I had to ask myself: "Am I really in the US and not in China?"

According to Warriors president and CEO Rick Welts, Friday's uniform debut was no slam dunk. "We've been working with the NBA for two years now on our Chinese New Year uniforms to recognize the tremendous fan base that our Asian community represents," said Welts.

NBA New Year uniforms woo Chinese fan base for New Year and more

Along with the Houston Rockets, who used to host China's most renowned basketball player Yao Ming from 2002 to 2011, the Warriors said it's their priority to connect with the Asian community, and by wearing the Chinese New Year-themed uniforms they were able to thank fans in the Bay Area and abroad in China.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a New York Times report that NBA China had $150 million in revenue in 2012, a growth "greater than 10 percent" in 2013, and he expected double-digit growth for the foreseeable future. While revenue in China remains a small fraction of overall revenue, Silver admitted the league would eventually be bigger internationally than domestically, and Asia was the key growth area.

China - the world's most populous nation and the second largest economy - has the biggest international fan base of the NBA. That might explain why the league spares no effort in highlighting its celebration of the Chinese New Year. The NBA will live-stream 56 games on the Chinese mainland and Taiwan this season.

The Warriors sport special jerseys decorated with Chinese characters, a Great Wall pattern stitched down the sides and the image of a ram on the sleeve, signifying 2015 as the Year of the Ram according to the Chinese zodiac cycle.

According to Warriors player Draymond Green, his team enjoys "tremendous support from the Chinese community" in the Bay Area. Beyond San Francisco, "the way China has embraced the NBA is incredible", he said, "not just the support of the fans, but their overwhelming knowledge and appreciation of the game."

No other overseas sports market may have the potential of basketball in China, given the country's emerging middle class and appetite for a healthy and sporty lifestyle. It seems to me that NBA intentionally chose the Warriors and Rockets to wear the specially designed uniforms to woo Chinese fans - the former having a high density of Chinese in its local fan base and the latter being the home of legendary player Yao Ming.

Green said China represents the league's biggest fan base outside the US and the "support there just keeps growing and growing. By joining in this celebration, we're showing how important China is."

Chris Lu, a software engineer originally from China who was at Friday's game, said he bought a set of Warriors' jerseys. "Chinese characters, the Great Wall and the image of the ram, those are all about Chinese culture and I believe the league is doing significant marketing in the right direction," he said.

The Warriors will also wear the uniform on Feb 24 at Washington and on March 2 at Brooklyn, Welts said. The team's fifth annual Chinese New Year celebration will be held March 4, featuring special New Year-themed pre-game, halftime and timeout performances, in addition to the Warriors Dance Team and Warriors Hoop Troop wearing Chinese New Year apparel.

"Don't be surprised if literally you find thousands of people in the Chinese New Year wearing the new uniforms," San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said. "I think it can get that popular, as everyone wants to display it anywhere they can. It is an indication of how strongly we feel the Warriors are part of our community."

The Warriors were one of the first NBA teams to launch an account on Weibo, China's equivalent of Twitter, in October of 2013. It now has about 1.5 million followers. "We post player and coach interviews, social media contests, game stats, photos and information," the team said.

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