The China Basketball Management Center (CBMC) on April 27 announced major changes to its men's professional basketball league, the Chinese Basketball Association League (CBA).
The CBA League will kick off its 10th season in November with the addition of two new clubs, a 45% overall increase in regular-season games, elimination of the relegation system, and sweeping changes to league sponsorship packages.
Before an audience that included pro club managers, media, interested sponsors and various marketing agencies, CBMC chief director Li Yuanwei announced a series of major changes for the CBA League during a press conference at the Landmark Hotel.
"The CBA is Asia's top basketball league from the quality of play standard and today's changes are made with a long-term goal of becoming the region's best sports league from business, media, and fan perspective," said Li. "The business of sports and entertainment in China is changing rapidly and it's important thatthe CBA League be aggressive and anticipate those developments."
Li is confident fans and sponsors will embrace a major change in the CBA League play format. Starting this fall, the 14 pro clubs will split into two conferences - a 7-team Northern Conference, and a 7-team Southern Conference. Teams will play each in-conference rival four times during the 38-game regular-season and non-conference opponents two times with top four finishers from each conference qualifying for the 8-team League playoffs.
"The clubs want additional League games to improve the game skill of the players and this can definitely benefit the overall performance level for Chinese pro basketball," said Li. "More games will also provide sponsors with additional exposure for their investment."
The 2004-05 season will include 266 regular-season games, including a minimum of 40 national TV broadcasts. The CBA hopes to attract 1.5 million in-stadium attendees, a potential increase of 40% from previous seasons.
"We are confident the CBA League playing format changes will spur increased competition from the players and help ignite stronger rivalries among the clubs," said Wang Du, deputy director of the CBMC. "Our league fans want to see their favorite teams play with more passion and creating stronger rivalries will help raise the level of excitement and interest."
The biggest change for CBA sponsorship is the CBMC decision to eliminate the official title sponsorship package. Instead, the CBMC will promote the CBA logo and brand while also delivering increased sponsorship benefits to three separate 'CBA presenting marketing partners'. This is a big step as previous league title sponsors included Hilton, Motorola, Nokia, and China Unicom.
Now the lion's share of CBA marketing benefits will be divided between three marketing partners. Benefits include in-stadium signage, on-court logo branding, uniform and patches, TV advertising, and stadium hospitality packages (VIP tickets, parties, etc.).
"Instead of relying upon one title sponsor at the cost of driving away other partners, now the CBA is targeting a selected group of sponsors who will receive more benefits in exchange for their support," said Tor Petersen, managing director of ZOU Marketing, a China sports branding consultancy advising the CBMC. "This sponsorship model is very successful for the best sports leagues in the world like the NBA (National Basketball Association) and NFL (National Football League). For it to work in China, the CBA players, teams, and CBMC must work together to give sponsors more value for their contribution to the League."
In addition to having players and team become "sponsor friendly", the CBMC is searching for a PR agency and an advertising agency to handle many sponsorship activation and promotional activities. The goal is to standardize the level of execution on promotions for fans, and to upgrade the use of CBA marks by the clubs, media,and sponsors. Those marks include the CBA logo, players' images, club logos, etc.