KFC has reached far beyond the borders of Kentucky to the nation of China, where it's bringing not just the fried chicken you might expect, but an entire basketball league. While it sounds like one of the company's more unusual new ideas, the KFC National 3x3 Youth Basketball Championship is, believe it or not, a hugely popular event now starting its 14th year.
Featuring teams of three players instead of five and a smaller court, the condensed game of 3x3 basketball is, as Chinese Basketball Association President Yao Ming put it, "entering a new phase of explosive growth," becoming enough of a global phenomenon that it has been added to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. KFC's program, in joint partnership with the CBA, will feature over 430,000 students from over 4,600 schools and, Ming says, will provide a "launching pad" for future players.
Growing almost tenfold since it began in 2004, the league's final championship game was viewed by over 11.2 million people last year, KFC's Chinese operator Yum China said in a statement. While any Americans watching may have been surprised to see so much KFC imagery in China's basketball stadiums, the fried chicken chain has over 5,000 restaurants in China, recently celebrating its 30th year in the country.
That anniversary was commemorated, naturally, with a custom KFC smartphone, which isn't the only tech product KFC has debuted there. In January this year, it tested a "smart restaurant" in Beijing that used facial recognition technology to try to predict customers' orders.While results were mixed, a Hangzhou KFC then tried out a technology called "Smile to Pay," which, unfortunately, does not mean the food is free. Rather, it uses a combination of facial recognition technology and phone number-entering technology to charge your bank account without needing a card.