The Shanghai Sharks suffered losses of close to one-million RMB ($160,000) this year according to their owner Yao Ming according to an article on Sohu Sports. The Shanghainese icon was speaking along with other owners and investors about the fiscal problems involved in running a CBA club and is seeking more involvement with the league’s governing powers to help improve teams’ bank balances before its too late. Yao believes that other CBA teams are averaging net losses far greater than Shanghai and potentially teams could be accruing tens of millions of debt.
Since returning to China after retiring from the NBA, Yao has emerged as one of the main proponents for change within the CBA and has already proposed overturning the third foreigner rule whereupon teams who finished in the bottom five the previous year get an additional overseas import. Arguably the most famous Chinese athlete of all-time and an established member of the country’s Communist Party, Yao has enormous political clout and so might be the man who is finally able to reform the largely incompetent governing body that runs the league.
Trying to explain why there are such problems in Chinese basketball requires an article that rivals War and Peace for detail, size and the number of characters involved but for the sake of everyone’s sanity, I’ll attempt to put the issues that Yao is trying to overcome in note form.
- A league governing body that is unpredictable and badly organized as seen this season by the CBA releasing the schedule less than a week before the opening round of games.
- Reduced crowds brought on by a lack of interest in the CBA, long standing doubt over competence of referees.
- Bizarre placement of teams: owners can essentially locate their team where they want. This means tiny places like Benxi, Fuzhou and Chanchung all have CBA teams but vastly bigger cities like Chengdu, Chongqing, Wuhan, Shenzhen and Shenyang do not. The more people in a city, the more people wanting to come see some basketball, right? Not according to the CBA.
- Li-Ning’s first year as the official uniform provider of the league has been a disaster.
- Many if not all of the teams use public arenas which means they are beholden to the various machinations involved in local government (Shanghai weren’t allowed to sell their jerseys at the Yuanshen this year due to a disagreement). Many of these arenas are also dilapidated and freezing in the winter.
- The season that is so short (thirty-two games) that an injury to a key player can end a CBA campaign after one game (again, basically the fate of Shanghai).
- The three foreigners rule basically creates an entire sub-tier of yo-yo’ing clubs who are terrible one season then make the playoffs the next only to be bad the following year.
The truly worrying thing is that I stopped myself from going on but this could easily become a three-thousand word article just through bullet-pointed notes. Yao is absolutely right to make noises about allowing teams to have more involvement with how their league is run. Whereas in other countries, a breakaway league might appear and force change within the CBA, the current political and business environment in China means that this isn’t an option. Revolution will have to come from within and Yao may well be the man to get it done.