But Major League Baseball clearly hasn't given up—the league recently announced that the season opener between the Yankees and Red Sox will broadcast live in China this year, for the first time ever. The game takes place at 8 p.m. Eastern on Sunday, April 4, which is 8 a.m. the next day in China. That's not exactly prime time, but Monday is a national holiday in China, so people should at least be home. And as the Hollywood Reporter so nonchalantly points out, thanks to the prevalence of cremation in the space-starved nation, few people have grave sites to visit this Tomb Sweeping Day, a holiday for honoring deceased relatives.
With no deal to air games on CCTV-5, the national sports channel that has a near monopoly on the market, MLB is taking an alternative route to broader exposure in China—agreements with a bundle of the country's biggest provincial TV stations. The league has added Chongqing TV and Shaanxi TV to existing contracts with Guangdong TV, Shenzhen TV and Jiangsu TV. Guangdong TV will air This Week in Baseball, Championship Season games and the World Series, according to BizofBaseball.com.
For the tiny number of diehard baseball fans in China, MLB last year made great improvements to its local Web site, MLB.cn including high-quality free streaming of games. The league's youth development program, Play Ball, continues this year with programs in 120 schools in five cities.
Paralleling the league's efforts, the New York Yankees act independently to push their own brand in China. A few small Yankees stores market pinstripes inside big-city malls, and the team works closely with Kenny Huang of QSL, which has an agreement with the Chinese Baseball Association to develop youth baseball. QSL arranged for the Yankees to tour China earlier this year to do photo ops with young people and the Commissioner's Trophy.
NYT: Yankee Emissaries seek fans in China
Tags: baseball, Boston Red Sox, CCTV-5, Kenny Huang, MLB, New York Yankees, QSL, TV
Yesterday, Reuters reported that Huang's deal fell through and that another group, led by another Chinese investor, one Albert Hung, is now buying that stake from Camelot Venture Group and David Katzman, former Cavs vice chairman.
But apparently Huang is not out of the picture. "Mr. Kenny Huang and Mr. Albert Hung are partners in the same company," a spokesperson for Huang told China Sports Today Tuesday. "Kenny will focus more with his investment in China while Mr. Hung will deal more with the Cavs matters going forward."
It would have been pretty embarrassing for Huang if he'd been completely squeezed out of the deal. When he made the baseball announcement in Beijing, he was calling his company QSL Sports, short for Qishi Lianmeng (骑士联盟), or Cavalier Alliance.
According to Reuters, Hung and company are paying cash and the deal should be finalized by the end of the year. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Cavaliers and Quicken Loans Arena have already signed a multi-year sponsorship deal with Tsing Tsao, China's ubiquitous domestic beer brand. The story doesn't explain what role Huang had in that deal, saying only that the parties signed it "With Huang standing over their shoulders."
The Cavs purchase is interesting and the other moves that Huang has made in Chinese sports—the baseball program, the CBA team–suggest his involvement with the Cavs is just meant to be one piece in a future sports empire.
In the above-mentioned Plain Dealer story, Brian Windhorst is clearly a big-time believer in Huang. The story opens: "Kenny Huang is a man who understands." The next paragraph lists Huang's Trans-Pacific credentials, followed by this:
"When he sees the Cavaliers and LeBron James he thinks big, grand long-term ideas. Then he executes them."
Slurp, slurp. What big, grand long-term ideas have been executed here? Windhorst finds Huang impressive that he cites him as a source for gauging the relative popularity of NBA teams in China:
"Huang said interest in the Cavs has exploded in China and they have surpassed the Houston Rockets, who have Chinese national hero Yao Ming, in popularity."
We're not saying that Huang Jianhua isn't likely to have interesting things up his sleeve, and big-time plans for the Chinese sports market. And we're not saying that the Plain Dealer hasn't done some decent reporting on Huang (witness this article from last May). But it's a little early to crown him MVP of Sino-U.S. deal-making.
Chinese investors buying stake in Cavs
Huang bets on baseball
NBA.com: Cavs new part owners interested in signing Yao
QSL's China baseball partnership still in very early planning stages
Tags: Albert Hung, baseball, basketball, Huang Jianhua, Kenny Huang, Lebron James, NBA, QSL, Yao Ming
But Americans have not given up on bringing their national pastime to the masses here—Major League Baseball recently launched a new site for the mainland (MLB.cn), opened a baseball academy in Wuxi, and still has staff in Beijing.
In the meantime, though, there are a whole bunch of out-of-work guys who can swing a bat or throw a baseball 60 or 70 miles per hour--maybe some of the heavy hitters can get absorbed by the now-Olympic-happy Chinese golf world somehow, a la Happy Gilmore.
And the women who play softball are even worse off, as no one's likely to come to the rescue soon with a softball academy or professional league.
Tags: baseball, Liu Kai, National games, rugby, 刘凯
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.
Huang bets on baseball
Chinese investors buying stake in Cavs
Tags: baseball, basketball, Huang Jianhua, Kenny Huang
"Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese players get to play in the best leagues in the world and so will the Chinese," said Huang, the Chinese-born, U.S.-educated businessman who is leading a Chinese company's purchase of a stake in the Cleveland Cavaliers. "It is my belief that China, as a sports-loving nation, has immense potential in offering great talent to the world of baseball at the highest levels. This partnership with CBA turns a new page in the development of baseball in China."
The deal involves a multi-million-dollar, 10-year commitment, and QSL intends for it to be a revenue generator in its own right, though sponsorship, merchandising, broadcasting and player management. Marc Ganis, the owner of Chicago-based SportsCorp Limited, will play a key role in setting the league's framework and bringing in coaching talent. Huang and Ganis together created SportsCorp China, which has arranged China marketing deals with the New York Yankees and the Houston Rockets.
"I look forward to seeing more Chinese players take their places in Major League Baseball just like Yao Ming does in the NBA," Huang said. "I am confident that our effort will help grow in China a love of the game in the near future."
The release makes no mention of any involvement in the deal on the part of Major League Baseball. The MLB staged a double-header in Beijing last year between the San Diego Padres and the Los Angeles Dodgers, but the site of that game--Wukesong Baseball Stadium--is an Olympic venue slated for destruction. The league is putting on a five-city road show between now and October, with stops in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Wushi and Chengdu.
Is this good or bad for the MLB? The league certainly seems like it could use an assist in its China efforts. It couldn't save Wukesong, has no broadcast deal in China and last year's MLB China Games were only a mild success. Nor has there been any development of ballparks to speak of. The MLB has good people with good intentions working on its behalf in China, but there are definitely some missing pieces. Maybe Huang and QSL can bring in some of those pieces. Any success they have with the CYBL will have to involve giving kids something to dream about--and playing in the MLB is still the ultimate in baseball dreams. The risk for the league is not so much of him creating a brand that supplants the MLB here, but of him setting the terms of the league's future in China.
Chinese investors buying stake in Cavs
Spring Training in Beijing
Baseball coach breaks with Olympic gag order
Tags: baseball, Huang Jianhua, Kenny Huang, MLB
There will be 42 sports in the Asian Games, 49 events total (ie, cycling counts as one sport, but there will be competitions in track, road, mountain and BMX cycling). The non-Olympic sports include: baseball (dropped from the Olympics for 2012), cricket, dragon boat racing, golf, karate, rugby, softball (like baseball, dropped for 2012) and squash. In the "That's a sport?" category, the Asian games will include cue sports (billiards, carom, pool and snooker), board games (chess, weiqi and xianqi), bowling and dance sport (making its Asian Games debut in 2010).
The games also will have a healthy helping of martial arts--karate, judo, boxing, taekwondo and wushu are all on the schedule.
Finally, for the Asian games sport that we've never heard of and most want to see live, sepak takraw beats out kabbadi. Kabbadi sounds like a mix of playground favorites tag and capture the flag. Sepak takraw "combines elements of soccer, volleyball, baseball, badminton, gymnastics and the ancient sport of sepak raga," according to the Asian Games' Web site--sounds like the MMA of ball sports.
Tags: Asian Games, baseball, Guangzhou Asian Games, kabbadi, martial arts, sepak takraw, softball
Its performance in the World Baseball Classic didn't seem to provide a satisfying answer to that question. After playing a competitive game against powerhouse Japan, then pulling off a big-time upset of rival Chinese Taipei (Taiwan), China got housed by Korea, 14-0.
American-born Ray Chang, who plays for the Pittsburgh Pirates' farm team, was the hero of the Chinese Taipei game, with his eighth-inning homer. WBC rules allow him to play for China because both of his parents were born there.
China beat Chinese Taipei in the Olympics as well. The 8-7 victory was China's only in the Beijing Olympics. China also gave Korea a good game in the Olympics, taking it to 11 innings before losing, 1-0. So why does China keep beating Taiwan, a country where people actually play and follow baseball, and losing to everyone else? Even with China playing pretty competitively against Japan and Korea, it is starting to look a little fishy.
Baseball America: China shocks Taiwan again
Asian-American Sports Examiner: Team China keeps it interesting, but loses first game to Japan, 4-0
Asian-American Sports Examiner: Hot-hitting Korean team defeats error-plagued Team China, 14-0
China's WBC page
Tags: baseball, Ray Chang, World Baseball Classic
World Baseball Classic begin in Tokyo Thursday with a game against Japan at 5:30 p. m. Beijing time. After winning just one game in last August's Olympics, (an unexpected 8-7 victory over Taiwan), and being outscored 60-14 at Beijing's Wukesong Olympic Baseball Stadium, China is the definite underdog in its group. If China loses to Japan (as expected) it will face the loser of Korea vs. Taiwan (competing as Chinese Taipei) at 11:30 a.m. Beijing time, Saturday.
Outside of the MLB's own coverage, the best online, English-language source that we can find to follow all of the Team China action is provided by Michael Street at the Asian-American Sports Examiner. In this piece, Street breaks down some of China's key players—like pitcher Li Chenhao (李晨浩) and shortstop Zhang Yufeng--and takes a guess at what the batting order might look like.