US-China trade war: Big hitters from NBA, PGA Tour and NFL hope sport will build bridges between rivals

  • Business leaders brace for bumpy ride but eyes are on long game
  • NFL chief says sport can have powerful unifying effect
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 November, 2018, 2:52pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 November, 2018, 2:52pm

Senior executives of American sports companies trying to grow their businesses in China say they are keeping a close eye on developments as the trade war between the two economic superpowers brews.

US basketball, golf, American football and others have invested significant time and money in their presence in the Chinese market but they face disruption if relations deteriorate.

US President Donald Trump has imposed tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese goods in an attempt to pressure the country to reverse what he claims are unfair trade practices.

Derek Chang, the chief executive of NBA China, said the impact of a protracted trade dispute was hard to predict – but he was hopeful that sport could act as a bridge between the two countries.

“I think we hope that it will not impact our business, but you never know,” he said at the Sports Connects sport business conference in Dongguan, central Guangdong Province.

“That being said … I think sports truly does bridge cultures, I think that is our focus. You cannot really focus on things that we cannot control.”

The world’s most popular basketball league has built up a huge following over many years in China and gains estimated annual revenues of US$150 million from its Chinese arm, which has been valued at more than US$4 billion.

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The US PGA Tour has also been active in China, setting up a subsidiary tour in 2014. This week, the organisation announced the creation of three academies at Mission Hills, the world’s largest golf facility and host of Sports Connects.

Arjun Chowdri, the PGA’s senior director of global and corporate strategy, said the organisation was thinking long-term about China and expected to ride out the storm.

“I think the benefit that we have is we get to play this long-term. So a trade war, we hope, if it does occur, isn’t a 20-year lapse,” he said at the conference.

“So we have the ability to go ‘OK, long term, what do we [US sports] want the ultimate outcome of our respective leagues and organisations to become’ [and] figure out the way to become that.

“We’re going to hit some bumps in the road certainly and many will not be controllable by us, some will. But that is part of learning and pivoting and moving forward.”

Richard Young, managing director of American football’s NFL China, said he was “certainly mindful” of the developing dispute.

He added: “If there’s anything that can supersede that, it would be sports.”