The National Basketball Association (NBA) of the United States is close to sealing an online media deal in the mainland as it seeks to cash in on the growing number of fans using the internet to watch sports, Media Eye has learned. Under the deal, the NBA will partner Tom Group, the media flagship of Li Ka-shing's Hutchison Whampoa, to introduce online services for the league on the mainland. Sources said the NBA would broadcast a certain number of matches through Tom's internet portal, which would devise value-added services for audiences. Both parties will announce the partnership details in Beijing on Saturday, with NBA commissioner David Stern and Tom Group chief executive Ken Yeung hosting a joint press conference. That will be followed by a pre-season match featuring the Milwaukee Bucks and the Golden State Warriors at Beijing Olympic Basketball Arena. It is perhaps not surprising that Tom and NBA are together exploring the mainland market. The Li Ka Shing Foundation, a charity trust, is one of the five initial investors with an 11 per cent stake in NBA China, founded in January to conduct the league's business in Greater China. 'The whole partnership will be based on the internet, with Tom Group providing the online video platform to deliver a number of NBA matches live. The audiences will also be able to interact with the coverage,' a source said. Earlier this week, NBA China and AEG, a leading sports and entertainment presenter, formed a joint venture to design, market and operate multipurpose, NBA-style sports and entertainment arenas in key cities across Greater China. 'Together we will work with every level of government and the private sector to create facilities that will anchor communities and grow the sport of basketball throughout the mainland,' Mr Stern said on Monday. The NBA has relationships with 51 Chinese telecasters, including a partnership of more than 20 years with national broadcaster China Central Television, which has successfully established a huge fan base on the mainland. Houston Rockets centre Yao Ming was one of the biggest stars of this year's Beijing Olympic Games. Industry figures show that more than 1 billion people watch NBA matches each year. More than 184 million fans on the mainland watched the live coverage of the China versus United States match at the Beijing Games. Ads take a hit The global financial meltdown is not only affecting those working in the financial sector. The advertising industry is also getting hit, with brand owners expected to spend less next year, even in fast-growing markets such as the mainland. Michael Wood, the chief executive at Leo Burnett Greater China, said the ad budget of mainland clients next year would grow at a slower pace than the past few years. 'Going into planning for the first part of 2009, we are seeing some organic growth from existing clients year on year but only in single figures,' Mr Wood said. 'I believe we will see a definite reallocation of clients' budgets in 2009 away from expensive mass media such as television into more one-on-one arenas such as retail and digital.' Mr Wood said mainland clients were being pushed to deliver growth both on sales volumes and margins. They are faced with the challenge of driving down costs while at the same time entering new markets deeper in China which cost more to access.