North Carolina – Duke. Duke – North Carolina. To almost all Americans, its the pinnacle of U.S. college basketball. To some, its the pinnacle of U.S. sports. And with several recent efforts to expand each school’s reach into China, the two schools are hoping that the Chinese will feel the same way, too.
The Dukies took the first official step into China in January when their game against Virgina became the first ever NCAA basketball game to be broadcasted live in Mandarin. Not to be outdone, the Tar Heels put their game against in-state rival, North Carolina State, on Shanghai television to make it the first NCAA game to ever be broadcasted live on TV in China.
Like last year’s national title, however, it appears as though Duke will have the last laugh, at least for now. Shortly after North Carolina announced their TV deal, Duke announced that the Blue Devils will go on a world tour this summer that will include three games in China. The four-time NCAA Champions will play on August 17th in Kunshan, August 19th in Shanghai and August 22nd in Beijing. They’ll also play a game in Dubai.
Keep an eye on that first date. Though the trip is at least somewhat aimed at gaining some traction with Chinese fans, the real reason Coach Krzyzewski and the gang are coming over is to help promote the school’s new Duke-affiliated Fuqua School of Business in Kunshan, a city which is about 50 miles northwest of Shanghai. The school is slated to officially open up in 2012.
If there is one thing that the Chinese like more than basketball, it’s academics, which in our opinion makes this basketball/academics combo a smart move for the university. But, like any American business that has dreams of entering China’s huge market, there are some issues that will need to be seriously thought about before China is filled with Cameron Crazies.
Though the Chinese are certifiably stir crazy over basketball, when it comes to consuming the sport, it’s strictly NBA. But, that’s not to say there is no coverage of NCAA basketball out here. hoopCHINA, one of the online go-to basketball news destinations for Chinese fans, has a NCAA news section that it updates frequently throughout the day, as well as a BBS forum that fans can interact on.
After that, however, there isn’t really anything else. Games aren’t broadcasted, recapped or highlighted over any mainstream medium, and merchandiser, real or fake, is hardly, if ever, available for purchase in stores. (Yeah, it’s tough to be an alumni out here.)
Like we said though, the Chinese are way into their academics, which is a topic that is often filled with talk of American universities. Though mentioned in the same breath as Harvard, MIT, Yale or Stanford, Duke is a well known institution on the mainland. That awareness will help with Fuqua’s development in years to come. North Carolina, though not to the extent of Duke, is also known for its strong academic standing.
But, in the quest to convert Chinese basketball fans into Dukies or Tar Heels, both schools will need to rely on more than just books. And fortunately for them, both have solid pitches: Duke, because of Coach K’s experiences as head coach of the U.S. National Team in Beijing 2008 and Turkey 2010, is known to pretty much everybody who follows the sport. North Carolina, because of Chinese demigod, Michael Jordan, is known likely by every single person in the entire country. And both win a lot, which helps their potential to grab large numbers of Chinese fans, being that Chinese are typically drawn to winners. But, that’s also important when remembering one key potential roadblock in selling NCAA basketball to China: Nobody in China has ever attended these schools, so loyalty will have to come by convincing fans through winning ACC and NCAA championships, something both schools excel at.
So who is going to prevail in this showdown in the PRC? With a campus set to open and the team scheduled to come out to help give it a nice start off the block, we’d say Duke has the clear upper hand against their hated rivals in China so far. We just wonder who the heck they’re going to play. As somebody who’s watched a lot of CBA basketball this season, a game against anybody other than the Chinese National Team would be a massive blowout, unless you think Coach K would tell his players not to play their hardest. Knowing the way Duke does things, we don’t think that’s likely.