On February 21, NBA China and China’s fintech giant Ant Group announced a “comprehensive strategic collaboration to create original online content and customized consumer experiences” for users of Alipay, China’s leading digital payment app.
The initiative will launch an NBA content matrix that is accessible through Alipay’s “Life” section, which is displayed on the app’s front page. The matrix includes NBA’s original video content, interactive games, as well as a range of user-generated content created by NBA China’s network of influencers and Alipay’s authorized content creators.
Notably, the collaboration also involves issuing digital collectibles on Topnod, Alipay’s digital collectibles platform, also known as Jing Tan. In the days leading up to the 2023 NBA All-Star weekend, Alipay users can collect badges of NBA’s previous all-star games by watching video content and following basketball KOLs on the NBA page of Alipay’s “Life” section. Users who accumulate enough badges can enter a raffle to win limited-edition NBA digital collectibles.
This is not the NBA China’s first time issuing digital collectibles on Alipay. During the 2023 Chinese New Year, NBA unveiled five collectibles to commemorate the occasion, including greeting cards, a basketball court, and a lion dance video from 2017 at the home court of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Digital collectibles will play a significant part in materializing the ambitions of both parties of the collaboration. Alipay has long sought to increase its lifestyle and socialization content to better compete with WeChat, which is owned by Tencent, and NBA video content clearly diversifies its offerings.
Digital collectibles that can only be acquired through user interactions will encourage more Alipay users to explore the platform’s interest-based features. Moreover, Alipay has become another strategic partner of NBA China, which until now had only exclusively cooperated with Tencent in terms of video content.
For the NBA, issuing digital collectibles will help it strengthen its connections with young, digital-native Chinese consumers. Although the association still has a huge fan base in China, its following has dwindled somewhat in recent years. Currently, there are no Chinese players in the NBA and its relationship with the China market has been rocked by political turmoil.
The rise of new sports during the pandemic challenges the dominance of traditional sports like basketball in China as well. However, with digital collectibles and short videos on Alipay, the NBA can potentially gain new fans from Alipay’s over 1 billion users.
Of course, digital collectibles do not guarantee a more intimate connection to Chinese consumers by themselves. For the collaboration to have the desired effect, both Alipay and NBA China will need to meticulously design the collectibles and combine them with real-life benefits that meet Chinese consumers’ demand for fitness and mental well-being.