Tencent has quietly resumed online broadcasts in China of National Basketball Association preseason games after a dispute last week prompted all of the American league’s official Chinese partners to suspend ties.
The Chinese tech giant on Monday live streamed two games — one between the Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls in Toronto and another between Israeli team Maccabi Haifa and the Minnesota Timberwolves in Minneapolis — a week after saying it would not show two preseason games that took place in China last week.
Tencent has the exclusive rights to stream the NBA in China, and it was one of several companies to hit back against the league after Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
When asked about the resumption of streaming, a Tencent spokesperson reiterated the company’s statement from last week, which said it would suspend broadcasts for the “China games.”
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Its decision to resume live broadcasts was a trending topic on Chinese social media platform Weibo on Monday, with many users accusing the company of using a loophole to continue its relationship with the NBA despite the backlash.
“I just realized Tencent Sports actually said (China games) in its previous announcement. It’s like playing on words and trying to work around the edges,” posted one user on Chinese social network Weibo.
“It doesn’t even take ‘six months’ for some Chinese to forget about it. It’s so embarrassing,” said another Weibo user called Wei Meng.
Golden State Warriors President and chief operating officer Rick Welts told CNBC last week he was optimistic that the controversy could quieten down “six months from now.”
Tencent’s stance highlights the importance of the NBA to China and Chinese businesses. The basketball league is hugely popular in China, with nearly 500 million people watching NBA programming last season on Tencent alone. The NBA’s business in China is worth an estimated $4 billion, and the league has even invested in building basketball courts across the country.
Morey’s tweet sparked a huge backlash in China, which intensified after NBA commissioner Adam Silver voiced his support for Morey’s “freedom of expression.”
CCTV, China’s state broadcaster, announced it would not air preseason NBA games held in China on its sports channel, calling Silver and Morey’s remarks “a challenge to Chinese sovereignty and social stability.”
The broadcaster also said it would “immediately review all its cooperation with NBA.” It has not publicly commented on the controversy since then.
CCTV could not immediately be reached for comment on Monday.
Tencent has been an NBA broadcast partner since 2015, and in July this year extended its partnership for another five years. Under the deal, Tencent will stream full seasons of live NBA games and content on its platforms, while jointly managing NBA activities in China.
A spokesman for China’s foreign ministry declined to comment on Tencent’s decision to broadcast Monday’s games, redirecting questions to the company.
“Sports exchanges have always played a positive role in enhancing China-US friendship and promoting bilateral ties,” the spokesman, Geng Shuang, told CNN during a press briefing. “At the same time, whether it’s in China, the US or elsewhere in the world, an important precondition for such exchanges and cooperation is mutual respect,” he added.