Nearly 500 million in China watched NBA programming in 2018-19

Sam Amico

How valuable is the NBA's relationship with China?

Well, according to Andrew Marchand of the New York Post, "nearly 500 million people in China watched NBA programming through the country’s exclusive digital platform" last season.

This season, the Chinese government has tried to keep that number closer to zero.

It all started when Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for Hong Kong protesters prior to this NBA season. While many around the NBA stayed silent on the matter, NBA commissioner Adam Silver strongly came out in support of Morey's right to free speech.

China's state-run CCTV dropped NBA games soon thereafter. It does not plan to carry games when the NBA season resumes, as the league's relationship with the communist nation remains rocky.

That relationship has constantly come under fire, particularly from American conservatives, and is back in the news after an angry email from ESPN insider Adrian Wojnarowski to U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley.

"F*** you," Wojnarowski responded to a Hawley press release that accused the NBA of "kowtowing to Beijing."

Wojnarowski has since apologized after Hawley took a screenshot of the email and tweeted it out. 

Obviously, 500 million watching the NBA is more than the entire population of the United States (about 328 million). Industry sources estimated viewership of NBA programming in the U.S. was around 15-20 million last season -- well short of not just China, but perhaps even several other countries.

"As the NBA readies for its restart to the season at the end of July, the league is allowing players to showcase social justice messages on their playing jerseys, such as, 'Equality,' 'Black Lives Matter,' 'Vote' and 'I Can’t Breathe,'" Marchand wrote. "However, the league limited statements to an approved list, which excluded any commentary regarding China."

Twenty-two teams are scheduled to resume the season in Orlando at the end of the month. All games will be held at the Walt Disney World Resort.