The NBA’s Chinese New Year Packet: Fresh Designs, WeChat and Jeremy Lin


nba china

The NBA Chinese Spring Festival messaging just gets better and better. This year America’s pro basketball league is shoring up its significant popularity in the world’s most populous nation around its biggest holiday—Chinese New Year, with the Year of the Rooster starting on January 28—with a creative and appropriate star-studded ad.

It’s another example of the NBA-China case study in successful brand localization.

The NBA’s theme this Chinese New Year is the 红包 (hóngbāo in Mandarin or lai see in Cantonese) or red envelope. Every Chinese child knows these red envelopes as a tradition of the holiday, often stuffed with money or some other gift from an elder.

For the NBA, its  红包 packet is stuffed with stars Anthony Davis, Jeremy Lin, Steph Curry and James Harden.

Even though Lin’s team seems to change annually, he’s got staying power in the NBA’s China outreach. It’s no surprise the league reached out to Lin, a marketing juggernaut in China, who is a spokesman there for everything from autos to fried chicken. In addition to being an above-average NBA player, Lin also has Chinese heritage. Last year, along with Curry, Lin starred in a family meal greeting. Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival as it’s known there, is all about the family meal.

The NBA’s Chinese New Year spot the year before that? Yes, Jeremy Lin.

While Lin is a clear perennial favorite of the NBA’s China holiday messaging, the league is doing a lot more than slapping him in a 30-second video. Since 2015, the NBA has put Chinese team names on jerseys during this time of year.

The NBA typically focuses on star teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers but also favors the Rockets, a team native to Houston, a city with a Chinese-American population that rivals San Francisco’s. Each year since, the NBA has released Chinese jersey team variations. Of course, those jerseys—and other Chinese language gear—is available at the NBA’s online shop.

In addition to jerseys and videos, the NBA is winning loyal fans in China by making access easy. The league is active on China’s booming social network WeChat. And its game broadcasts reach Chinese fans through a deal with internet giant Tencent, where a month of NBA games runs about $5.

And around the Spring Festival holiday, when most of the nation usually has a week or more of vacation, the NBA makes dozens of games accessible. It’s a genius, multi-faceted messaging blizzard that combines localized care with an ample supply of affordable core product.

And it’s not just the NBA league itself. Individual teams, aware of the sport’s popularity in China, are also offering their own holiday messages and outreach. The Golden State Warriors—whose home includes Chinese-American-heavy population of San Francisco—released a candid team video last year. A few months ago, the Houston Rockets released a mini documentary about the team’s trip to the Great Wall.