NBL games to be live in China
Photo Source: AAP
The NBL has signed a deal to broadcast every game of the 2016-17 season in China, paving the way for a Chinese team to eventually join the league.
In what the NBL has described as a first for Australian sport, the games will stream live on Youku - described as the YouTube of China - and sports website Sina Sports, and will feature commentary and graphics in Mandarin.
The deal comes as NBL general manager Jeremy Loeliger prepares to visit China to sound out interest in a Chinese team one day joining the league.
"If you look at the strategy of the players who are getting involved now, I have no doubt in my mind that they're putting themselves in a position to take content in the event that there is a Chinese team that joins the NBL," he told reporters on Wednesday.
"Obviously, that's very high on my agenda when I go and have those discussions in China next week. At this stage, that's still very much fact-finding and feeling out the local market as to what that opportunity might look like and how it might be structured.
"Sport is often talked about as the next big boom industry in China ... we're there at the very beginning of that wave starting to form."
Youku, owned by online commerce giant Alibaba, attracts 50 million unique daily visits.
The financial terms of the deal have not been disclosed but Loeliger said the ability to reach Chinese households would provide a lucrative incentive for potential sponsors.
The league was on its knees several years ago as dwindling crowds, poor TV ratings, and a lack of star power threatened the existence of Australia's professional basketball competition.
But it has enjoyed a revival over the past two years, helped by a new digital broadcast strategy.
The league has this year made every game available live through its NBL TV app, which is free to season-ticket holders, in addition to broadcast deals with Fox Sports and SBS.
Wednesday's announcement follows the Sydney Kings becoming the first club in NBL history to lure a Chinese-born player, signing Shenzen Leopards giant Bo Liu as a development player via a loan deal.
Loeliger hinted that Liu won't be the only Chinese player to join the league.
"Certainly, our partners in China have asked questions about what they can do around Sydney games to highlight Bo Liu's involvement," he said.