A three-year agreement signed between Major League Baseball (MLB) and Le Sports, a branch of China’s online group LeTV, will allow baseball games to be live-streamed in China, Hong Kong and Macau. This will be the first time that MLB games will be broadcast in China.
While MLB did not disclose the financial terms of the agreement, according to Forbes, Le Sports is set to broadcast 125 MLB games every season, along with Mandarin programming for MLB on the broadcaster’s internet platform, mobile applications and OTT devices. Le Sports is backed by billionaire Jack Ma and has about 14 million unique visitors a day, comprising 3 percent of China’s online video users, Bloomberg reported. The report also said that Le Sports will hold the rights to rebroadcast the games through video on demand.
The deal was announced by Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred; MLB Chief Operating Officer Tony Petitti; MLB Senior Vice President of Growth, Strategy and International Chris Park; Le Sports Chairman Fei Gao; Le Sports CEO Zhenjian Lei and Le Sports Vice President of Strategy Hang Yu.
The 125 games would include four HD games a week during the regular season where 96 games in total are shown, 20 HD postseason games, All-Star Game, Home Run Derby, and all World Series games. Other than the MLB games being streamed, Le Sports will also be co-producer for "Perfect Pitch," a baseball reality show. The network will broadcast MLB Beijing University Baseball League, the opening and final games of MLB Shanghai University Baseball League and the games of MLB Play Ball! Youth Program, Forbes reported. The latest deal is part of a strategy that has been a focus for Manfred since the beginning of his tenure in 2014.
“We are delighted to showcase Major League games in Mandarin throughout the distinctive, ever-growing ecosystem of Le Sports devices and apps. China is a crucial frontier for the development of baseball. Our new, prominent place on Le Sports platforms both reaffirms and expands our commitment to growing the game in China,” Manfred said, according to Forbes.
About 300 million people of China’s 1.4 billion population have taken to the game, Bloomberg reported. Until Mao Zedong’s death in 1976, baseball was viewed in China as a form of Western indulgence. In 2007, MLB opened its office in Beijing and has been running development centers since 2009. Xu Guiyuan, 19, became the first MLB player to come through that system in July. He was accepted by The Baltimore Orioles.
“By working with MLB in China over the past three years on events, we saw just how appealing the league is to Chinese families, and how popular the games and MLB players have become young sports fans in China,” Le Sports CEO Lei Zhenjian, said in a statement, according to Variety.
Valued at $430 million, Le Sports, which raised $122 million recently, is funded by China’s richest man and real estate billionaire Wang Jianlin, Bloomberg reported. The company is also in its second round of funding to reach the target of being valued at $3 billion.