By Barry Janoff
January 7, 2016: In what was called an "historic" step intended to significantly increase its footprint in China, MLB has signed a multi-year deal with Le Sports, called the nation's leading Internet-based eco-sports company, to live-stream games for the first time throughout the China mainland, Hong Kong and Macau.
Financial terms of the three-year deal, unveiled Wednesday evening (Jan. 6) at the CES Show in Las Vegas, were not disclosed.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred described the region as a "crucial frontier for the development of baseball."
Under terms of the agreement, which begins with the 2016 season, Le Sports will hold exclusive media rights in China to broadcast 125 MLB games per season, along with Mandarin-language MLB programming, through its internet platform, mobile applications and OTT Devices.
Le Sports will also have rights to rebroadcast those games through video on demand.
The media conference was attended by Manfred, MLB COO Tony Petitti; MLB svp-growth, strategy and international Chris Park; and Zhenjian Lei, Le Sports CEO.
"China is a crucial frontier for the development of baseball," said Manfrred. "Our new, prominent place on Le Sports platforms both reaffirms and expands our commitment to growing the game in China."
According to Manfred, "This historic partnership with Le Sports exemplifies Major League Baseball's diversified approach to serving international communities. We are delighted to showcase Major League games in Mandarin throughout the distinctive, ever-growing ecosystem of Le Sports devices and apps."
The 125-game lineup includes: four HD games per week during the regular season (96 games in total), 20 HD post-season games, the All-Star Game, Home Run Derby and all World Series games.
Le Sports said it would invest "significant marketing resources and leverage its unique digital device ecosystem to promote baseball."
In addition, Le Sports said it would establish an online community for 30 MLB clubs and become a central portal for Chinese baseball fans to "connect more deeply with their favorite teams, from supporting MLB live events to merchandise purchases."
"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 to young sports fans in China," said Le Sports' Zhenjian Lei. "We are excited to expand and extend our partnership with MLB."
MLB has worked with Le Sports over the past two seasons to co-produce 250 episodes of MLB Perfect Pitch, a baseball reality show. Le Sports will continue as a co-producer and also will broadcast MLB Beijing University Baseball League and MLB Shanghai University Baseball League opening and final games and MLB Play Ball! Youth Program games.
MLB opened its office in China in 2007 and since then has launched MLB Development Centers in Wuxi, Changzhou and Nanjing.
The MLB Play Ball! Program covers nearly 100 elementary schools in five cities in China.
"Our new, prominent place on Le Sports platforms both reaffirms and expands our commitment to growing the game in China."
MLB currently works with eight local broadcasters to live-broadcast MLB Jewel Events (Opening Series, All-Star Game, Home Run Derby, World Series).
"Over the last decade, MLB has worked steadily to lay a lasting foundation for baseball in China," said Petitti. "We have made remarkable progress developing uniquely Chinese baseball content, enriching the curricula of local schools, and mentoring the first generation of top-flight homegrown players. This partnership is an encouraging inflection point in the story of MLB China. Le Sports is an invaluable media platform for global sports brands and will enhance all aspects of our presence in China."