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Endeavor’s Michael Ma returns to NBA to lead China operations

(Photo by Zhong Zhi/Getty Images)

Michael Ma, the chief executive of Endeavor China, is returning to the National Basketball Association to head up the major league’s operations in China.

Ma will replace Derek Chang, who leaves his position as NBA China chief executive at the end of this week. The Endeavor executive will assume his new post on June 1.

The NBA said today (Tuesday) that Ma will “fully manage the league’s basketball development and business development in China” and will be responsible for “further enhancing the popularity of basketball and the NBA in China with the support of the NBA’s senior management team in China”.

Ma, who spend 13-and-a-half years at the NBA between 2003 and 2016, will be based at the league’s offices in Beijing and will report to Mark Tatum, the NBA’s deputy commissioner and chief operating officer.

Chang’s departure was announced in the middle of April. Having taken up the chief executive post in June 2018, he is now moving back to the UK with his family.

During his term, Chang oversaw robust growth of the NBA brand in China. He managed the opening of the largest NBA Store outside of North America in Beijing and expanded deals with Chinese broadcasters. Last year, the NBA signed a record media rights renewal with media and technology group Tencent.

He also faced the tough task of steering NBA China as the league’s relationship with the Chinese government soured last year after it become embroiled in the Hong Kong protests. China was furious at tweets from Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey for his backing of the anti-government demonstrations in Hong Kong.

Ma assumes the leadership of NBA China with powerful state broadcaster CCTV still to announce if it would start broadcasting NBA matches again. The remainder of the 2019-20 season has been suspended because of the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

Endeavor (then WME-IMG) appointed Ma in October 2016 as part of its efforts to drive the agency’s growth in the country. This came on the back of the agency group forming a Chinese subsidiary through a Sequoia Capital China-led investment group including Tencent, FountainVest Partners and Focus Media.

Endeavor has been particularly hit by the shutdown of the entertainment, film, music and sports industries and this week secured a $260m (€240.3m) term loan amid a cost-cutting drive.

Having joined the NBA in 2003, Ma worked in roles in New York and Beijing and was promoted to the league’s vice-president of global strategy. He played a key role in establishing the NBA China operation in 2008.