Trade war raises questions for US sports in China

Chinese fans watch the preseason NBA basketball game between Dallas Mavericks and Philadelphia 76ers in Shenzhen, China. [Photo: AFP]

Senior executives of American sports trying to grow their businesses in China said they are keeping a close eye on developments as a trade war brews between the two superpowers.

US basketball, golf, American football and others have invested significant time and money in their presence in the Chinese market but they face potential disruption if relations sour further.

US President Donald Trump has imposed tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese goods in an attempt to pressure the country to reverse what he claims are unfair trade practices, prompting dire warnings of a new cold war.

Derek Chang, the CEO of NBA China, said the impact of a protracted trade dispute was hard to predict -- but he remained hopeful that sport could act as a bridge between the two countries.

"I think we hope that it won't impact our business, but you never know," he told AFP during an on-stage interview at the Sports Connects sport-business conference in Dongguan, southern China.

"That being said... I think sports truly does bridge cultures, I think that's our focus. You can't really focus on things that we can't control."

The world's favourite basketball league has built up a huge following over many years in China and gains estimated annual revenues of $150 million from its Chinese arm, which has been valued of more than $4 billion.

The US PGA Tour has also been active in China, setting up a subsidiary tour in 2014. This week, the organisation announced the creation of three academies at Mission Hills, the world's largest golf facility and host of Sports Connects.

Arjun Chowdri, the PGA's senior director of global and corporate strategy, said the organisation was thinking long-term about China and expected to ride out the storm.

"I think the benefit that we have is we get to play this long-term. So a trade war, we hope, if it does occur, isn't a 20-year lapse," he said at the conference.

"So we have the ability to go 'OK, long term, what do we (US sports) want the ultimate outcome of our respective leagues and organisations to become' (and) figure out the way to become that.

"We're going to hit some bumps in the road certainly and many won't be controllable by us, some will. But that's part of learning and pivoting and moving forward."

Richard Young, managing director of American football's NFL China, said he was "certainly mindful" of the developing dispute.

But he added: "If there's anything that can supersede that, it would be sports."