Yesterday in Beijing, Kenny Huang (Huang Jianhua, 黄建华), the businessman leading a conglomerate of Chinese investors in a purchase of a 15 percent stake in the Cleveland Cavaliers, held his first press conference since news of the deal broke two weeks ago.
But Huang wasn’t there to talk basketball–in fact, he wouldn’t answer any questions about the Cavs deal (which, according to Marc Stein at ESPN, hit a snag when an embezzlement suit was filed against Huang in Florida). Instead, he and Marc Ganis, owner of Chicago-based SportsCorp Limited, were there to talk about their partnership with the Chinese Baseball Association to develop youth baseball in China.
The baseball deal, which brings the CBA and Huang’s QSL Sports together to create the Chinese Youth Baseball League (CYBL), was announced last week. Ganis is a strategic partner charged with creating the league’s framework, developing facilities and providing coaching support. But with no imminent plans to form teams, start league play, build a single ballpark or broadcast any baseball content on Chinese television–all things that QSL said last week that it planned to do–the CYBL seems far from ready for a ceremonial first pitch. Questions about details of any planned initiatives between QSL and the CBA were evaded.
“We have been working very closely with CBA to set up the youth league competition,” Huang said. “We have a lot of cooperation with Taiwan as well. We are targeting within the next twelve months to have some real competition getting started, but we don’t have a fixed timeline or schedule yet.”
QSL did not reveal how much it plans to invest in Chinese baseball, only saying that it is a multi-million dollar commitment over the next 15 years. Huang and Ganis did not say which cities might see games first, but the six cities with CBA-run Chinese Baseball League teams are the obvious candidates.
If QSL had no actual plans to announce, why hold a press conference now? By following the Huang-Cavs story by one week, the baseball announcement got more press than it otherwise would have in China. Several basketball journalists attended the press conference at the China Sports Administration’s headquarters complex, adding to media coverage that could help with QSL’s search for sponsors, which is clearly a priority.
“Building baseball fields is one of the great sponsorship opportunities that are out there,” Ganis said. “We think that when people see those opportunities, when we create them, you’ll see a lot of fields being built.”
Today’s press conference mostly addressed well-worn questions about baseball’s challenges and potential in China, but the NBA association is front and center for QSL. Its Chinese name, 骑士联盟（Qishi Lianmeng), means Cavalier Alliance or Cavalier Union.
The QSL-CBA deal has no affiliation with Major League Baseball, and the MLB found out about it at the same as the general public. MLB is currently the leading promoter of youth baseball in China. Its Play Ball program, which organizes competition between 120 schools in four cities, just finished its second year with the Diamond Cup, a two-day championship tournament in Shanghai. For the next four months, the MLB Road Show, a sort of small baseball festival, will visit five Chinese cities. The league also contributes equipment and clinics for coaches, players and umpires.
“Not only is the game in a developing stage, but interest is in a developing stage,” says Rick Dell, MLB’s director of baseball development for China, who has been involved in baseball in Asia for 15 years. “If there’s anyone in this country who knows how difficult it is to do what he’s talking about doing, it’s me. To have a great plan and execute it is a challenge here. And if you have no plan, it’s impossible to get anything done. If they had a plan ready, they probably would have mentioned it.”
What QSL does have is a formal agreement with the sports administration–no small feat in China–and the business leadership of Huang, who is emerging as a fascinating deal maker working to bridge the gap between the Chinese and American sports worlds and hoping to make a pile of cash doing it.
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Tags: baseball, basketball, Huang Jianhua, Kenny Huang