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Here's why Alibaba is sponsoring a historic U.S. college hoops game in China

By GeekWire Friday, 05 Jun 2015 18:00

A historic basketball game will be played in China this November and Chinese e-commerce retail giant Alibaba Group is helping to make it happen.

The University of Washington and the University of Texas men’s hoops teams will battle in Shanghai on November 14, marking the first time a U.S. sports league (Pac-12) is hosting a regular season game in China.

Alibaba — essentially the Amazon, eBay, Google, and PayPal of China, all wrapped into one — is the presenting sponsor of the game and has exclusive rights to distribute the live feed across its mobile and digital platform.

“We are proud to partner with the Pac-12 to bring this historic game to China,” Jim Wilkinson, Alibaba Senior Vice President, said in a statement. “This game and Alibaba Group’s involvement is consistent with our commitment to bringing the best of the world to China, and showcasing the best of China to the world.”

Before the game itself, Alibaba is hosting a “China academic program” for the visiting U.S. student athletes, who will travel to Alibaba’s headquarters in Hangzhou to practice at the company’s athletic facilities and learn more about the “strategic societal, cultural and business trends taking place across China, including in the important area of e-commerce.” Alibaba said it will also provide the “China education module” to all Pac-12 institutions after November.

The game also falls just after “Singles’ Day,” a massive online shopping extravaganza in China that helped Alibaba bring in more than $9 billion last year.

Alibaba’s sponsorship makes sense for several reasons, as basketball is China’s most popular sport. More than 300 million Chinese youth play basketball game, which is equal to the size of the entire U.S. population.

The Pac-12 also streamed 27 games in China this past season, while the NBA again has plans to play pre-season games in the country this October.

Alibaba, which debuted on the New York Stock Exchange last year in a record-breaking IPO, is also trying to make its mark in the U.S., where the company opened a Seattle-based engineering office and a data center in Silicon Valley during the past year.

However, shares of Alibaba are down 16 percent so far this year, with CEO Jack Ma saying last month that the company “developed too quickly.” As a result, Ma recently implemented a hiring freeze.

Here’s a statement from Alibaba on why “this trip is about so much more than a basketball game”:

As these student athletes complete their education and enter the global economy, China/US relations will be central to the future of the world in which they live. We truly believe that this trip will provide these student athletes with a once in a lifetime chance to learn about China, to make new friends, and to hopefully impact their futures in a positive way. We are proud to partner with the PAC-12 to bring this historic game to China. This trip and Alibaba Group’s involvement is an important step in bringing the best of the world to China, and showcasing the best of China to the world.

The UW vs. Texas game, held at the 18,000-seat Mercedes Benz Arena, will air on ESPN in the U.S. at 7 p.m. PT on November 13. Alibaba will also sponsor a second Pac-12 regular season game next year.



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