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Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Globalization and Sports

Skip Sauer of Sports Economist has a great post on the influence of Yao Ming generally and China more specifically on the international hoops economy. Put simply, thirty million Chinese fans watch each Houston Rockets game on television. That's compared to approximately the 1 million or so other (and presumably, American) fans who watch the Rockets on TV.

Do you hear the cash registers working overtime? Is David Stern salivating?

Now, that's not to say that the average Chinese hoops fan today has enough disposable income to buy all sorts of Rockets merchandise, but what it does demonstrate is the potential economic impact of the world's largest nation (population-wise). It's huge. The big question, as the post indicates, is the ultimate relationship between the Chinese government, on the one hand, and the NBA and other hoops organizations, on the other. I'm sure as with many things a happy medium will be achieved, but don't think it will ever be as simple as paying whopping transfer fees to the Chinese government in exchange for springing Yao from a bunch of in-country commitments any time soon.

Then again, given the 15 million plus in Euros Newcastle just paid for the rights to Michael Owen, perhaps the Chinese would be wise to consider this type of economic model in selling rights to their players.

How sports get "globalized" is interesting. Baseball, to a certain extent, has failed, as it and softball have been kicked out of the Olympics. Baseball also hasn't spread to that many countries. Sure, it's played a bit in The Netherlands, Italy and Russia, as well as Japan, Australia, Taiwan, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Venezuela, Colombia and Canada (and if I've missed a few nations, bear with me), but it hasn't gone to say, China or India, say, nearly the way that soccer has come to the U.S. Yet, the overseas influence has been significant, as Venezuelan voters weighted in loud and clear in this year's All-Star balloting, propelling, among others, Bobby Abreu, normally an also-ran in voting, into a starting position this year. Japanese voters have acted similarly for Japanese players. In contrast, while soccer hasn't become the United States' national pastime, the United States has adopted soccer well enough to qualify for the World Cup.

Soccer is played in Florida, but baseball hasn't taken route in Shanghai or Bombay.

So where is the United States' trade balance in all of this? It hasn't exported either baseball or American football very well. NFL Europe has performed marginally, and I don't know much to say about Canadian football except that it's an interesting phenomenon. The U.S. has made a mark on ice hockey, as now there are many American-born players, whereas thirty years ago there were not (and ice hockey is popular in many cold-weather countries, but that's hardly a U.S. export). As for soccer, it has supplanted Little League baseball, and the U.S. has performed well on an international scale most recently. In short, we've imported it better than we've exported baseball. Overall, it's probably a draw.

Watch Yao, the NBA and China for fascinating developments in the years ahead. China is building up its athletic base to send a message to the world for the 2008 Olympics, which it's hosting in Beijing. Thirty plus years ago, it was all about the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., and which nation would capture the most medals. In 2008, there will be a different nation stalking the U.S. -- China.

Unless, of course, after performances in world championships before then, it's the other way around.

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