NBA's Timothy Chen

Microsoft Exec Moves to NBA in China, Where Basketball Is Massively Popular

By Published on .

BEIJING--The National Basketball Association (NBA) has recruited the CEO of Microsoft Corp.'s Greater China operation, Timothy Chen, to lead its newly created NBA China division, effective Oct. 15.

As CEO of NBA China, Mr. Chen will be in charge of consolidating all of the league's businesses in Greater China under one roof, such as events, licensing, merchandising, marketing partnerships and youth programs like this year's NBA Jam Vam roadshow. In another corporate move, the NBA has promoted Beijing-based Mark Fischer to Senior VP of NBA China from managing director, China of NBA Properties.

Before he joined Microsoft in 2003, Mr. Chen was chairman and president of Motorola Corp.'s Chinese subsidiary. A Taiwan native, he received an MBA from the University of Chicago and two master's degrees in computer science and mathematics.

His background appears incompatible with a major sports league at first, but NBA executives point to his ability to forge relationships with government agencies and local companies, crucial skills in China's nascent sports market, as well as his digital media experience, given the increasingly high-tech nature of basketball.

Many major basketball franchises now maintain Chinese-language web sites, for example, and fans can watch games or download scores in real time via mobile phones from the NBA's Chinese mobile site,, which was launched last month. In 2006, the NBA signed a multiyear global marketing partnership with Olympic sponsor Lenovo Group, making China's largest computer company the official PC partner of the NBA, with marketing rights in the U.S. and China.

The NBA has marketing alliances with other Chinese companies such as Haier Group, which produces white goods and electronics and is also an Olympic sponsor; a major Chinese dairy, Inner Mongolia Mengniu Milk Industry Co.; and the Internet portal

Basketball is strikingly popular in China, where it was introduced early in the last century by American missionaries. Besides admiring well-known U.S. basketball stars, Chinese follow local teams that have produced homegrown talents like Yao Ming, a center for the Houston Rockets, and Yi Jianlian, who recently signed on to play for the Milwaukee Bucks.

With up to 300 million basketball fans in the mainland, the NBA has a stronger following there today than either Major League Baseball or the National Football League. According to TNSSport, a global sports research company, 83% of mainland Chinese call themselves NBA fans and six of the top ten favorite athletes in China are NBA players.

A survey by Aegis Group's Synovate research arm found that 20-to-29-year-old Chinese viewers like to watch the NBA more than any other sports league. The NBA has relationships with 51 TV stations, including state-run China Central Television (CCTV), that provide NBA programming to more than 1.2 billion viewers.

Other appointment news in Greater China

[shanghai] Coca Cola Co.'s director of interactive marketing in China, K.K. Ko, has resigned to become head of marketing in China at LG Electronics Worldwide. Coca-Cola has confirmed his resignation but has not announced his successor.

[hong kong] Mike Cooper, the Hong Kong-based CEO, Asia/Pacific at Omnicom Media Group, mainly in charge of Optimum Media Direction ( OMD), has relocated to London as CEO of another Omnicom media agency, PHD Worldwide. He is succeeded by Barry Cupples, now CEO, Asia/Pacific of OMG based in Singapore. Previously, he was CEO of Omnicom Media Group for central and eastern Europe, based in Budapest.

[beijing] GroupM's Mediaedge:cia has appointed Sharon Wang as national business director in China, a new position based in Beijing heading up the agency's interaction division. Previously, she was business development director at MRM Worldwide, McCann Worldgroup's Relationship and Digital Marketing company, also in Beijing.

[shanghai] Proximity Worldwide, the below-the-line specialist agency attached to BBDO Worldwide, has rehired Glenn Bartlett as exec creative director for China based in Shanghai. Mr. Bartlett joined Proximity in March 2007 from M&C Saatchi, Hong Kong, where he was the integrated creative director, Greater China.

He resigned in May 2007 after less than three months to join JWT in Hong Kong as group creative director, a new position in charge of the agency's SmarTone-Vodafone mobile phone business, but returned to Proximity because "China is where I want to focus my future," said Mr. Bartlett. He returns to an expanded role that includes working with BBDO clients such as General Electric, Visa, Federal Express, Wrigley and Pepsi as well as Proximity-only clients such as Air New Zealand, Gucci and Chrysler.

[hong kong] News Corp.'s Hong Kong-based pay-TV arm Star Group is expanding distribution of its Hindi- and Mandarin-language programming in the U.S. by opening of a sales office in Los Angeles. Star produces over 10,000 hours of Indian and Chinese language programming per year.

The LA office will run by David Wisnia, VP for distribution and sales in North America, where Star hopes to expand distribution of four top-rated channels, Star India Plus, Star One, Star India News and Vijay, which are currently available on DirecTV. It will also market Star Gold and several Mandarin-language channels such as the Star Chinse Channel and Channel [V], a music-focused youth channel. Previously, Mr. Wisnia was VP, business & legal affairs at Fox Sports International.

[beijing] Ogilvy Group has appointed Joan Liu and Saurabh Sharma as strategic planning directors in its Beijing office. Ms. Liu, who will work on new business as well as Ogilvy's Johnson & Johnson and Lenovo accounts, was previously a strategic planning director at Publicis Worldwide, Beijing. Mr. Sharma was previously planning director, discovery at Ogilvy & Mather, Mumbai. In China, he will work on the agency's multinational consumers clients as well as agency-initiated insight research.
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