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MLB makes breakthrough in Chinese market with Le Sports partnership

Major League Baseball has sealed its first mass market media partnership in China by agreeing a three-year deal with Le Sports, which is operated by Chinese internet company LeTV.

The contract, running from 2016 to 2018, makes Le Sports an official strategic partner of MLB in mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau.

The strategic alliance is highlighted by live streaming of MLB games in China for the first time. 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.

The 125-game lineup includes: four HD games per week during the regular season, 20 HD postseason games, the All-Star Game, Home Run Derby, and all World Series games. In addition to live streaming games, Le Sports will have rights to rebroadcast those games through video on demand.

Le Sports will also invest significant marketing resources and leverage its digital device platforms to promote baseball. Le Sports will establish an online community for 30 MLB clubs and become a central portal for Chinese baseball fans to connect with their favourite teams, from supporting MLB live events to merchandise purchases.

Le Sports will continue as a co-producer of MLB Perfect Pitch, a baseball reality show. Le Sports also will broadcast MLB Beijing University Baseball League and MLB Shanghai University Baseball League opening and final games as well as MLB Play Ball! Youth Program games.

“This historic partnership with Le Sports exemplifies Major League Baseball's diversified approach to serving international communities,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said. “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.”

MLB has had an office in Beijing since 2007 and its array of development programs in the country recorded a milestone last summer when 19-year-old infielder Itchy Xu was signed by the Baltimore Orioles. MLB has programs in almost 100 schools in five Chinese cities with an estimated 600,000 children having participated.

MLB chief operating officer Tony Petitti added: “Over the last decade, MLB has worked steadily to lay a lasting foundation for baseball in China. 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.”