China’s state broadcaster has started broadcasting National Basketball Association games again, almost a year after they were pulled from the air in a row over Hong Kong.
Miami Heat’s victory over the Los Angeles Lakers – a win that keeps the series alive – was screened live on China Central Television on Saturday morning local time, with the broadcaster saying it had noted the “good will” messages it had received from the NBA since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Observers said commercial considerations played a role in resuming the broadcasts, but it also showed Beijing was trying to maintain normal civil exchanges between the two countries despite the ongoing tensions between them.
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CCTV pulled the plug on NBA games just over a year ago after Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets, expressed sympathy with anti-government protests in Hong Kong by tweeting a picture with the words “Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.”
Mainland Chinese fans reacted with anger to the tweet and NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s defence of Morey’s right to free speech.
Events by NBA stars in Shanghai were cancelled and two preseason games in China were not broadcast by CCTV. The regular season was also kept off CCTV’s schedules, although games have been available on Tencent’s streaming network.
In a statement published on social media on Friday, CCTV said the resumption of broadcasting was a “normal arrangement” and cited the sport’s “broad support base” and fans’ “viewing needs”.
The statement continued: “On the Chinese National Day and Mid-Autumn Festival that just passed [both on October 1], the NBA sent holiday blessings to Chinese fans. We have also noticed the good will continuously expressed by the NBA, especially the active efforts in supporting the Chinese people in fighting against the Covid-19 epidemic since the beginning of this year,” the statement read.
The NBA provided donations worth US$1.4 million to Hubei earlier this year, including a medical device worth US$285,000 for a hospital in Wuhan, after Covid-19 first emerged in the province.
NBA matches were first broadcast in China in the 1980s and the country has become the competition’s biggest market outside America.
Last year Tencent reached a five-year, US$1.5 billion deal to remain the league’s exclusive digital partner in China, while the contract with CCTV was worth US$70 million last year.
There are also lucrative merchandising and sponsorship deals on offer to the league and individual players and NBA China, a separate business arm of the NBA, was valued at $5 billion by Sports Business Journal last year.
NBA-China relations returning to normal after CCTV brings back live coverage for game five of Finals
“China is a very important market for the NBA … Resuming broadcasts benefits both sides,” said Lu Xiang, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
But Lu said the resumption of broadcasts also shows Beijing’s desire to normalise people-to-people exchanges in spite of the deterioration of official relations this year.
“China still maintains cultural exchanges between the two countries out of overall considerations. Be rational, cooperate if possible, and don’t try to escalate the situation,” Lu said.
Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at the Renmin University, said Beijing believed it was necessary to maintain social ties with the US, despite Donald Trump’s increasing hostility.
Shi also argued that the decision sends the message that China still welcomes investment from the US and is “consistent with China’s long-term principle of opening up”.
Additional reporting by Wendy Wu
More from South China Morning Post:
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- NBA exiting China ‘should be for US government to decide’, says Adam Silver
- Franck Ribery, Kalidou Koulibaly and French footballers follow NBA’s Rudy Gobert in support for Xinjiang’s Uygurs
- Tencent: Houston Rockets blackout the least of NBA’s China worries
This article Chinese state broadcaster says it allowed NBA to return to airwaves a year after Hong Kong row after receiving ‘good will messages’ and Covid-19 support first appeared on South China Morning Post