The National Basketball Association Inc. is hiring its first head of government and public affairs in China as it seeks to protect its most important international market at a time of high tension in the U.S.-China relationship.
The newly created position, based either in Beijing or Shanghai, will report directly to NBA China Chief Executive Officer Derek Chang and be in charge of “shaping the public narrative” of the league in the world’s second largest economy, said the job posting, which Bloomberg has seen.
“This role is fully responsible for managing and enhancing governmental relationships at all levels, coordinating and setting all relevant policy alignment and priorities,” said the posting.
The NBA has already achieved the kind of success in China that other international sports leagues covet. It has a host of licensing and retail deals, including a $500 million pact with Tencent Holdings Ltd. and a 30-plus-years partnership with state-run broadcaster CCTV. About 800 million Chinese watched NBA programming on TV, digital media or smartphones last season, said the league.
While there’s no indication that the NBA is in the Chinese government’s cross hairs, American businesses in China have been on edge since the trade war broke out last year. Besides the tit-for-tat tariffs, American and Chinese politicians have crossed swords in recent months on issues ranging from 5G networks to the treatment of the ethnic minority Uighur population in China.
Foreign businesses have sometimes become collateral damage in China’s geopolitical disputes. When South Korea agreed to deploy the Thaad missile-defense system over Chinese objections in 2017, brands from Hyundai Motor Co. to Amorepacific Corp. saw sales plunge from a boycott. Retail conglomerate Lotte was so harassed by officials for allowing one of its golf courses to be used for a Thaad battery that it’s largely wound down its Chinese operations.
Many global companies in China, from Facebook Inc. to Walt Disney Co., employ government affairs liaisons to manage their relationships with local regulators and widen their space for expansion in China. These are often former diplomats or well-connected Chinese elites.
In response to Bloomberg queries, NBA said that it is the most popular international sports league in China. “We do not disclose financials, but can tell you that our business is in great shape,” it said in an email. “Overall our business in China has seen double-digit growth every year since 2008.”
The email didn’t address specific questions about why the government affairs job was being created now, or whether the New York-based NBA coordinates any activities with the U.S. government.
“We are working with the Ministry of Education, the General Administration of Sport, China Basketball Association and Yao Ming to grow the game at all levels,” the email said. Yao, a former all-star for the Houston Rockets and by far the most famous basketball player from China, became chairman of a local league, the Chinese Basketball Association, in 2017.
The job requires at least 15 years of experience, fluency in Mandarin and English and “deep knowledge of legislative and regulatory processes in Mainland China,” said the recruitment document, which requests applicants send resumes to Singapore-based executive-search firm Henry Hale Maguire.