No NBA on CCTV as blackout remains

Chinese broadcaster's latest message points to continued boycott despite huge fan base

The NBA logo is seen at its flagship store in Beijing last year. The backlash has cast a cloud over its merchandising interests in China.
The NBA logo is seen at its flagship store in Beijing last year. The backlash has cast a cloud over its merchandising interests in China. PHOTO: REUTERS

SHANGHAI • Chinese state broadcaster CCTV yesterday confirmed there was no prospect of easing its blackout on coverage of National Basketball Association (NBA) games, in place since a tweet last year by the Houston Rockets general manager supporting the Hong Kong protests created a media firestorm.

The NBA has been on hold since March 11 owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, along with most other major sports, with no return date set.

But even before the coronavirus crisis reared its head, CCTV had kept games off its broadcast since October following Daryl Morey's backing of the pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong.

There had been speculation that CCTV would resume its coverage of games once and if the league resumes, with Brooklyn Nets owner and billionaire co-founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, Joseph Tsai, telling Bloomberg he was confident that "everything will come back".

However, the Chinese broadcaster has shot down any talk that the NBA will be aired on the country's most-widely viewed and influential free-to-air TV network any time soon.

"Regarding rumours, we should reiterate we have not had any contact or dialogue with the NBA as of today," CCTV News wrote on its Weibo account, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter.

Footage of an anchorman making the same statement on air was also aired. He said: "On issues concerning sovereignty, our attitude is severe, resolute, consistent and there is no room for manoeuvre. The NBA should understand this position."

The backlash from Morey's comments has cast a cloud over the NBA's lucrative broadcasting, merchandising and sponsorship interests in China, where it has a huge fan base.

According to the league, 800 million people in China watched its programming last season and CCTV accounts for a substantial part of that audience.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in February that the league expected to lose "several hundred million dollars" due to the fallout over Morey's tweet and the subsequent defence of "freedom of expression of the NBA community", much to the chagrin of its Chinese partners.

He has, however, continued to claim CCTV will eventually resume broadcasts of NBA games without giving a timeframe.

But Chinese Internet giant Tencent, the league's biggest partner outside the US and which last year signed a five-year deal worth a reported US$1.5 billion (S$2.13 billion) with the NBA, showed regular-season games up until the suspension after initially halting its live streaming in October.

Still, CCTV's decision will be a double-whammy for the NBA as fans are likely to be barred from attending games for the foreseeable future due to Covid-19 concerns.

According to NBC Sports, it is estimated the league will lose around US$500 million in ticket revenue for the remainder of the 82-game campaign and the play-offs alone.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 12, 2020, with the headline No NBA on CCTV as blackout remains. Subscribe