The fallout from a tweet by the Houston Rockets basketball team’s general manager Daryl Morey in support of Hong Kong protesters appears to be growing, with potential implications for other foreign brands in China.

Anger has mounted since the National Basketball Association (NBA) commissioner Adam Silver refused to publicly apologise for Morey’s tweet, citing his support for freedom of speech. State broadcaster CCTV, however, argued that “any speech that challenges national sovereignty and social stability does not fall within the scope of freedom of speech”.

The consequences have been the suspension of broadcasts of NBA pre-season games in China and, so far, 11 Chinese brands announcing they are ending their sponsorship of the NBA, the South China Morning Post reported. Shanghai Pudong Development Bank also said its credit card division has stopped its marketing ties with the Houston Rockets.

Not only have commercial sponsors reacted to Silver’s comments, so too have many commentators on social media, as well as Chinese celebrities, the Global Times reported.

A loss of the Chinese market would be a massive hit to the NBA – games in the country are watched by some 800 million sports fans a year through a variety of platforms and Tencent was reported to have paid US$1.5bn earlier this year for the digital broadcast rights to NBA games over the next five years.

Meanwhile, shares in the sponsors of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) and its teams have seen a surge in value in the wake of the row, along with those of Chinese sports gear brands, on the expectation they will gain support as Chinese fans turn away from the NBA.

China’s leading e-commerce platforms, including Alibaba’s Taobao, and Pinduoduo, appear to have blocked all products relating to the Houston Rockets, the Post reported, with all searches for related merchandise returning “not found” results. (Jing Daily observed that banning NBA merchandise might even be a positive for the association as this could reduce counterfeit sales.)

The US basketball league launched NBA China 10 years ago, and it has been a phenomenal, and lucrative, success. According to Forbes in 2018, NBA China was worth more than $4bn, or $133m for each team.

Sourced from South China Morning Post, Global Times, Jing Daily; additional content by WARC staff