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    NBA Woos Chinese Sports Fans With Immersive ‘DreamCourts’ Project

    The announcement comes amid ongoing criticisms of the American basketball league in the country over controversial views from its staff and players.

    SHANGHAI — The National Basketball Association is scheduled to open one of its first multipurpose “experience centers” featuring themed dining, retail services, and interactive games, as the American basketball league expands its footprint in China.

    The first phase of the project dubbed “NBA DreamCourts Preview Center” is expected to open in May 2022 in the eastern city of Suzhou, the league announced Monday at the ongoing China International Import Expo (CIIE). It will be the first of six centers across China for the professional basketball league, according to its China team.

    “The launch of an NBA experience center will create more consumption scenarios for Suzhou,” Zhang Bo, founder and chairman of NBA’s project partner Harves, said during the press conference. “We hope to grow it into a landmark project in the sports industry.”

    The NBA’s efforts to immerse into the Chinese market come at a time when it faces backlash in the country due to controversial views from its staff and players in recent years.

    In 2019, state broadcaster China Central Television temporarily suspended all broadcasts of NBA games for a year over a political tweet by a team manager. Most recently, tech titan Tencent, which holds the league’s online broadcasting rights, cut the Boston Celtics game on its streaming site due to a player’s comment against the Chinese government on social media.

    A public relations staff member of the NBA China team declined to answer questions involving the rift between the NBA and China.

    However, the NBA’s commercial value has not been completely undermined in China, thanks to its large fan base. This year, Migu, an entertainment content subsidiary of state-owned telecom giant China Mobile, bought the NBA’s internet portal television broadcasting, or IPTV, to cater to diversified audiences.

    China is one of the fastest-growing markets for the NBA, with the market accounting for nearly 10% of its global revenue, Yahoo Finance reported in 2019, citing sources from the league.

    As the largest exhibitor at the CIIE’s sports and outdoor leisure section, the NBA’s high-tech booth occupies an 800-square-meter space featuring an immersive basketball court, a holographic installation of NBA stars, memorabilia, and an area modeled after its changing rooms.

    (Header image: A visitor poses a photo with NBA mascots at the China International Import Expo (CIIE) in Shanghai, Nov. 9. 2021. Jiang Yaling/Sixth Tone)