Thursday, July 01, 2010

The loss of Yi and the Nets' China ambitions

Now that the Nets have traded Chinese forward Yi Jianlian to the Washington Wizards to clear salary cap space (and bid for two free agents, not one), what happens to the team's global ambitions?

(And when will they update the Nets' Chinese web site, which still features Yi, as in the screenshot at right?)

Well, notwithstanding the role of globetrotting Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov as owner, there has to be a setback in the world's most populous country.

I didn't see that concern in coverage of the Yi deal in the AP, News, Post, or the official press release.

Some savvy

The Star-Ledger's Dave D'Alessandro wisely pointed out:
Ether way, Yi and his $4.05M salary are history -- so much for that foray into the Asian continent, unless they believe a billion Chinese fans are going to follow the owner, which doesn't seem likely.
And NetsDaily editor NetIncome added:
the big problem
is how do you sell the Nets as a global franchise when you just dumped your only Asian player—the third most popular figure in China—in the hope of getting to $33 million?

Days of optimism

After all, in May, Prokhorov told plucked-from-obscurity blogger Vinny Rotondaro:
We are creating this franchise with fans all over the world. We need all our fans from New Jersey to Brooklyn, to Moscow to Europe to China.
And it was just last August when Nets CEO Brett Yormark, having recently come back from China, was pumped:
NJNets.com: You recently took a 10-day business trip to China. What did you take away from your meetings and interactions?

Brett Yormark: The biggest takeaway is that the Nets brand is bigger there than it’s ever been. Obviously, a big part of that is Yi Jianlian. Sixty-two Nets games are televised over in China now, maybe even more this year with Yao not playing. We spent time in Shanghai, Beijing and then Hong Kong, and we expect to be able to consummate a couple of good deals from that trip. We also visited many of our partners that were with us last year: Haier, Nike China, Peak and Sina.com. They’re all returning and we were very pleased with what we were able to deliver. I look at China as a great opportunity for us, both short-term and long-term.

In an interview published this past March on ChiefExecutive.net, Yormark said:
And for us, having a Russian owner plays into the evolution of our franchise as we look to go global. We already have Chinese player - Yi Jialing [sic] - and all of our games are televised in China.
And in May 2009 the Nets announced:
The National Basketball Association’s (NBA) NETS Basketball team and Infront Sports & Media (China) Co., Ltd. have announced an exclusive sales and marketing agency alliance covering the People’s Republic of China, including Hong Kong and also covering Taiwan. As the NETS exclusive sales agent in China, Infront China will use its local expertise and experience to help develop new marketing and sponsorship opportunities for the NETS organization.

The NETS, one of three NBA teams currently featuring a Chinese player, have been extremely active in China for the past year. With the addition of Yi Jianlian in 2008, the NETS acquired an up and coming NBA player and one of China’s most popular athletes. Yi’s addition to the NETS has led to an immediate increase in media exposure for the team and interest amongst Chinese fans and commercial partners. On December 22, 2008, more than 106 million people viewed the game between the Houston Rockets and the NETS. Moving forward, the NETS are committed to making China an even more significant part of the NETS overall business development strategy.

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