The NBA is a major cultural phenomenon in China. In the past ten years or so, NBA teams, recognizing the huge potential of Chinese audiences, have stepped up efforts to market their organizations in China. This has not only included broadcasting games in China but actually hosting NBA games in major Chinese cities. Jing Travel contacted Will Syring, Senior Manager of Global Sales at the Chicago Bulls, to learn more about how his organization is working in the China market and with American destination marketing organizations (DMOs), like Choose Chicago.

What are the Chicago Bulls’ current goals in China, and what are the most important key performance indicators when working with China?

Given the popularity of the NBA in China, the Chicago Bulls have made it part of our organizational growth strategy to find ways to engage our loyal fan-base in China. The Chicago Bulls have more than 175 million active fans and more than 65 million of those are in China. The NBA as a league, our NBA China office, and our internal digital team do an outstanding job activating our social accounts and posting relevant content to Weibo. Tencent and CCTV have also secured broadcasting rights to select NBA games. We closely track how often our games are on these channels and our total followers, including 1.75+ million on Weibo.

What are some of the efforts the Chicago Bulls are making to market the team in China? Do you feel that these efforts have garnered success?

We recently celebrated the Spring Festival and Chinese New Year during our February 22nd game vs. Philadelphia. For the first time in the history of the team, the Bulls celebrated the Year of the Dog with a martial arts and dance routine from the Xilin Asian Community Center in Naperville, Illinois, a Dragon Dance in the United Center’s atrium, and a special anthem singer from China. More than 2.5 million fans in China streamed the game and highlights were captured on CCTV. This celebration was a revenue driver for both group tickets and global sponsorships.

The Chicago Bulls celebrated the Year of the Dog with a martial arts and dance routine. Photo: Chicago Bulls / Lani Tons

Led by our Vice President of Corporate Sales and Corporate Partnerships Scott Sonnenberg, the Bulls executive corporate partnerships team visited China in late 2016 to meet with current Chicago Bulls partners and prospects based in Beijing and Shanghai. Scott also participated in Tencent’s annual sports business panel that was streamed live to millions of followers in China.

The Chicago Bulls official dance team, the Luvabulls, and our mascot, Benny the Bull, visited Guangzhou and Chengdu last year. Both entertainment acts supported NBA China partner activations.

How do these efforts in China tie together with what the Chicago Bulls and other teams are doing for Chinese tourists in the United States?

Each Bulls home game provides an opportunity for Chinese tourists visiting the city of Chicago to enjoy a basketball game at the iconic United Center. The Michael Jordan statue is now placed inside a new fan atrium that is open to the public each day, and a team store and soon-to-be-open restaurant make this a year-round tourist destination.

The Michael Jordan statue is now located inside, Photo: Zarah Vila / Shutterstock

How does social media factor into these efforts?

Social media is a big part of what the NBA and the Chicago Bulls do to engage our fans in China. The NBA’s WeChat account is the most followed sports account on the platform, while the NBA Weibo profile has more than 33 million followers. The Chicago Bulls actively post relevant content to our Weibo account translated into Chinese.

Last year, the Golden State Warriors and Minnesota Timberwolves played in Shenzhen and the Bulls have historically played games in Brazil and the United Kingdom. Were these experiences positive for the team? Do you see the Chicago Bulls participating in games in China as a means of boosting the team’s profile in the Chinese market?

Both of our previous international team trips were fantastic experiences, providing our fan base in these markets the opportunity to watch their favorite team in action. We hope we’ll get the opportunity to play in China in the future.

Basketball is easily one of the most popular sports in China. With China’s huge population, the country seems like the ideal opportunity for market expansion. What do you think are some of the most promising revenue streams going forward for both the NBA in general and teams like the Chicago Bulls specifically?

Merchandising, broadcast rights, sponsorships, and NBA Global Games present a large revenue opportunity to the league and its teams. The NBA is now the number one followed league in China online, clocking 2.9 billion video views during last year’s playoff alone.

In 2016, the Lakers took part in organizing a tour group for Chinese travelers to watch Kobe Bryant’s last game and meet some of the players. They reportedly paid as much as $10,000 to take part in the experience. Are such tour packages on the table for the Chicago Bulls?

Yes, any interested parties can contact the Chicago Bulls group sales department.

Destinations stand to benefit substantially from association with their respective teams. Professional sports teams substantially boost awareness of cities as destinations both nationally and globally. Do you think cooperation between organizations like the Bulls and destination marketing organizations (DMOs) like Choose Chicago could prove effective in promoting the profile of both parties in China?

We work closely with Choose Chicago, the consul general of China’s Chicago office, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, and the Mayor’s office as all our strategies are aligned to boost awareness for the city of Chicago and its events and sports teams. It’s our job to showcase all the beauty and experiences that Chicago can offer tourists from all over the world and the Chicago Bulls are a big part of that.

Young Chinese consumers are growing up with access to the NBA and other internationally-renowned sports series. What does the Chicago Bulls do to cultivate a following with young Chinese consumers who are now getting exposed to the sport at a young age?

The Bulls have recently launched a youth-focused fan club, Bulls Kid Nation. Bulls Kid Nation is our new youth program dedicated to providing opportunities for our youngest fans through game experiences and exclusive offers. Membership is available through two packages: the Rookie or the All Star. Depending on which one you sign up for, you will receive benefits including experiences and promotions. Membership signup is available at Bulls.com/KidNation through an online form.

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