Baseball in China? MLB signs deal with Tencent to stream games
Quest to bring America’s favorite pastime to world’s most populous country
Baseball isn’t new in Asia. It’s been one of the most popular spectator sports in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan for decades, but hasn’t achieved star status in China. Now Major League Baseball (MLB) is taking a major step to change that.
The US baseball league has signed a three-year agreement with Tencent to carry live games, highlights and other content on digital platforms -- including the sports channel QQLive and the multi-purpose app WeChat, which has more than 1 billion users.
Pretty much everything is included, from regular season games, the postseason, World Series, as well as the All-Star Game and Home Run Derby. Tencent will also air a reality show featuring youth baseball in China.
MLB has been trying to tap into China’s massive sporting market since 2007, when it opened its first office in Beijing. It’s investing heavily in talent cultivation -- with plans to build at least 20 training facilities in China in the next decade.
Three existing development centers have already produced three MLB players, including trailblazer Xu Guiyuan -- nicknamed “Itchy,” he joined the Baltimore Orioles in 2015 -- as well as Hai-Cheng Gong with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Justin Qiang with the Boston Red Sox. But none are currently active in the league.
People in China are used to watching sports on smartphones. Tencent has been streaming NBA games in China since 2015. Last year, nearly 200 million viewers tuned in for the NBA Finals on mobile alone.
The NBA shows what’s possible for American sports in China -- but also the size of the task facing MLB. Basketball legend Kobe Bryant has amassed an unbeatable following in China, garnering more than 5 million followers on Weibo -- but the official MLB Weibo has only 60 thousand followers.