Yao Ming Gives AZN an Assist

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Though AZN Television doesn’t hold any television rights to National Basketball Association games, the service has scored a marketing deal allowing it to associate with a league that’s growing in popularity and viewership among Asian-Americans.

The Comcast Corp.-owned network has designed original programming that will coincide with, and use clips from, pro-hoops games. It will also run a sweepstakes that will send the winner and a companion to February’s NBA All-Star Game in Houston.

Steve Smith, managing director of AZN, said the network was looking for a way to leverage interest in the sport, generated by the popularity of 7-foot, 7-inch Houston Rockets center Yao Ming, who was born in China.

“It turns out that the NBA has identified Asians as a group to target. We just went after each other,” Smith said.

AZN is already airing Yao in the NBA, a documentary series coproduced by Shanghai Media Group and NBA Entertainment. The series, premiering on Sundays with encores on Wednesday mornings, focuses on Ming’s sophomore season with the Rockets, his battles with the likes of Shaquille O’Neal and the hoopla that comes from being a superstar in the States and an icon back in his homeland.

The sweepstakes, in which viewers who tune Yao in the NBA can answer questions about the show at www.azntv.com/nba, tipped off on Nov. 11 and runs through Dec. 23, with the payoff coming in the form of a pair of All-Star Game tickets, plus travel and hotel accommodations and other amenities.

The sweepstakes is also designed to build awareness for other AZN original series, including the NBA-centric Hoop Guys. Currently in production, the program follows three hosts who trek cross-country to attend an NBA game every night. The show will include their escapades getting to each game, as well as clips from the contests. The show, featuring a general script with improvisational assists, is scheduled to debut in January, Smith said.

The trio’s quest is to meet the big man himself. Smith said when the show shoots in Houston, Ming has agreed to be involved. That’s no small “get” for the network, Smith said.

“He generates passion among [our viewers]. He’s extremely sought-after,” Smith said, adding that other NBA rights-holders had told AZN that Ming is low-key and private. But the channel contacted Ming’s management and “fortunately, they liked the show concept.”

“We hope once he gets to know us better, we can do more with him,” Smith said.

The sweepstakes also offers up an affiliate-relations prize: The system that devotes the most local ad avails to the contest will earn a party featuring a catered lunch and a visit from the Hoop Guys hosts.

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