Joseph Tsai on Favorite Player Jeremy Lin, China’s Sports Education, and Alibaba’s New Sports Platform

Bill Walton and his wife Lori greeted Joe Tsai and welcomed him to the NBA family before a VIP roundtable with dignitaries from UCLA, Georgia Tech and the Pac-12 Conference.  Joe Tsai, an Alibaba co-founder billionaire, just purchased forty nine percent stake of Brooklyn Nets with the option to be the majority owner after four years.

During the conversation, Joe shared that Brooklyn Nets will be an interesting journey and a long-term project. When asked by Lori about who his best player is, he said, “There is ..(low audio) … I like Caris LeVert,  he is a young .. I think we have a very young group, and of course, my favorite player Jeremy Lin is injured” [mark 1:18]. Bill asked, “Who is injured?” Both his wife and Joe said, “Jeremy Lin”. Bill said, “I did not know he was on your team”

This is the first public statement from Joe Tsai that his favorite player is Jeremy Lin. They do share the Taiwanese heritage so it does make sense that Joe would root for Jeremy Lin from his Linsanity days since 2012. How it impacts Jeremy Lin’s contract and future as a Brooklyn Nets is still uncertain but as a billionaire owner with 49 percent stake, he might be able to provide insight to keep Jeremy Lin for the long-term and how it will be mutually beneficial to Brooklyn Nets and Jeremy Lin. Jeremy has the player option for 2018-19 season for the last year of his three year contract. It is expected that he will opt into the third year after he recovers from the ruptured patella injury. There is a possibility that he can be traded before Feb 2019 or even be signed a new contract if the Nets would like to keep him for a long-term.

In October 2017, Tsai has expressed enthusiasm over the direction of the franchise with general manager Sean Marks and coach Kenny Atkinson, sources said, and ultimately plans to work on bridging his strong Asian business ties into global business opportunities for the Nets. Jeremy Lin with his Asian heritage and the #3 most popular NBA player in China could very well be the X factor to the realization of global business opportunities for the Nets.

The Importance of China’s Sports Education to the Next Generation

During the round table, Joe Tsai shared the importance of sports education from his personal experience playing college lacrosse at Yale. As an athlete, he learned all the good values such as discipline, team work, and learning how to win and how to lose. Those are the important values that he learned through the sports field that he carried throughout life. He truly believes that this American-style view of sports as an integral part of education is something that people in China can learn from.

Joe also elaborated further that China should focus more on team sports so kids will learn to work like a team with the rest of the world; otherwise it will be a terrible future. As part of the new Alibaba sports industry, this provides motivation for joining forces with the Pac-12 Conference to change this mentality in China by integrating sports education on the college level.

And on the Chinese side, the e-commerce giant Alibaba Group has jumped on board as a way of acquiring content for its brand new sports platform and, as founder Jack Ma put it at the company’s headquarters in Hangzhou on Tuesday, to help young Chinese learn the value of playing — and working — on a team.

“China is pretty good at the single sports. Ping pong is very good, but we think China should focus more on team sports — basketball, soccer and volleyball,” Ma said. “The world is very connected and China needs to work like a team with the (rest of the) world. If we cannot make our kids focus on that, it’ll be terrible in the future.”

The curiosity was evident as young Alibaba employees took a break from their last-minute preparations for Singles Day — China’s biggest online shopping day on Wednesday — to line the glass wall at the company’s basketball court and watch the Texas basketball players sprint up and down the court in a spirited workout.

Still, the process will likely take time. The NBA has had success bringing preseason games to China over the past 11 years, but it remains to be seen if Chinese fans will have the same passion for U.S. collegiate sports.

“NCAA is not known in China. Period,” said Joe Tsai, Alibaba’s executive vice chairman, referring to the National Collegiate Athletic Association. “That’s because in China, when you go to college, have a normal college academic experience, they don’t emphasize sports. If you’re an athlete, they separate you when you are very young and you’re on a separate track.”

Part of Alibaba’s motivation for joining forces with the Pac-12 Conference is to change this mentality in China.

Sports is part of education,” Tsai said. “You don’t separate sports from your academics because you learn so much value from sports.”

Alibaba’s Long Term Plan to Build China’s Sport Industry

The timing of Tsai’s purchase of the Nets and Alibaba’s effort to develop China’s Sport Education coincide well with the development of Alibaba’s new sports programming platform. It involves partnership with US retailers such as Stadium Goods that links buyers of hard-to-find, pricey sneakers and apparel products such as Nike and Adidas.

Earlier in October, Alibaba denied rumors about Tsai’s interest in the ‘Nets. The news is well timed, however, as the Chinese behemoth builds its sports programming and seeks retail tie-ins on its selling platforms through its subsidiary Alisports. Alibaba hosts its largest one-day shopping promotion on Nov. 11 — called 11/11 and previously Singles Day — and it has increasingly included partnerships with U.S. retailers. One small business, U.S. sneaker and sports apparel sales platform Stadium Goods, lobbed over a press release this morning to note that its partnership with Alibaba resulted in sales of more than $1 million in one day following its launch on Alibaba’s Tmall last year. Stadium Goods links buyers and sellers of sneakers and apparel, including hard-to-find, pricey Nike (NKE) and Adidas products.

In July 2017, Forbes also reported that Alibaba Wants to Build China’s Sports Industry and the company is working with every player to develop China’s sports business, which is one-tenth the size of the U.S.

At the national level, Alisports is trying to set itself up as the go-to seller of tickets and a leading sports-news service. With that in mind, it’s paid to become the title sponsor of World Rugby ($100 million) and the FIFA Club World Cup (an undisclosed amount). The company has also formed a partnership with the Ladies Professional Golf Association to host an annual tournament in China, and with the International Boxing Association to sponsor competitions and internet broadcasts.

Not least, Alisports and other parts of the Alibaba empire are working to develop and customize the Olympic Channel, the International Olympic Committee’s digital platform, as part of a deal with the IOC to bring programming to China year-round through 2028. Financial terms haven’t been disclosed.

China’s disproportionately small sports industry and amateur community reflect decades of limited government support and insufficient disposable incomes, says Zhouxiang Lu, a lecturer at Ireland’s Maynooth University who studies Chinese sports policy and practice. The number of gyms and swimming pools in many cities has increased more than tenfold since 2000, but football, baseball, ice hockey, and motor sports remain under­represented, because they require large investments in playing areas and aren’t as profitable as comparable development projects, he says.

On June 8, Alibaba projected revenue growth of 45 percent to 49 percent for the year ending next March, so Alisports executives can afford to be sanguine about the near term. “We actually don’t have any specific number to meet in terms of revenues,” says Feng, the marketing VP. Dong “Martin” Wang, the company’s vice president for international affairs, says the company is planning more for 5 or 10 years from now.

BOTTOM LINE – Alibaba’s tiny sports arm is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to nurture China’s interest in sports and related merchandise.

The timing seems to be perfect for Joseph Tsai’s passion for sports, changing China’s mentality on the importance of sports education, a long-term investment in Brooklyn Nets, support for Jeremy Lin as his favorite player, and the growth of Alibaba’s new sports platform (AliSports).

Will this translate to supporting Brooklyn Nets as a contender in the next few years with Jeremy Lin as the main building block of a young and exciting team under the tutelage of Coach Kenny Atkinson and GM Sean Marks? Stay tuned and hopefully we will find out soon!