China’s tech giants hit pause on NBA ties after executive’s Hong Kong tweet

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Several major Chinese tech companies, including Tencent and Alibaba, have suspended cooperation with the National Basketball Association or removed content and products related to the league following a tweet from a Houston Rockets executive in support of the months-long Hong Kong protests.

Why it matters: Chinese tech giants are becoming increasingly wary of regulatory and public backlash against any lack of action in the face of political controversies.

Details: The reactions came after a tweet from the Houston Rockets’ general manager Daryl Morey expressing support for anti-government protesters in Hong Kong, attracting widespread criticism on Chinese social media.

  • Tencent, the primary media partner of the NBA in China, said on Tuesday that it would temporarily suspend all NBA preseason broadcast plans. All Houston Rockets-related news have also been removed from Tencent’s sports website.
  • E-commerce platform JD.com, as well as Alibaba’s Taobao and Tmall, have taken down all franchised products related to the team.
  • Alibaba executive vice-chairman and Brooklyn Nets owner Cai Chongxin stated in an open letter to Chinese basketball fans that the territorial integrity and sovereignty of China are non-negotiable.
  • Smartphone maker Vivo, the sponsor of upcoming exhibition games in Shanghai and Shenzhen, said that it would cease all cooperation with the NBA in a statement issued on Tuesday, voicing dissatisfaction with Morey’s tweet and  the NBA’s response.
  • Bytedance-backed sports community platform Hupu also said that it would pause all updates of Houston Rockets games.

Context: In July, Tencent secured a five-year partnership with the NBA for $1.5 billion, giving the giant the exclusive right to stream NBA games in China.

  • Tencent charges users subscriptions to watch NBA games on its sports streaming platform. Regular subscribers, who pay RMB 22 or around $3 per month on an annual basis, can watch matches of a single NBA team, while premium subscribers, who fork over RMB 60 monthly on an annual basis, have access to all matches, according to the company’s website.
  • Tencent does not disclose the size of its sports subscriber base, though its registered subscriptions for value-added services in the second quarter of the year numbered at 168.9 million.
  • Game six of the NBA 2019 finals was viewed by 21 million Chinese fans on Tencent platforms, according to the NBA, and 490 million users watched Tencent’s NBA content during the 2018 season.