May 21, 2015 / 4:25 AM / 4 years ago

China's ZTE seeks more NBA partnerships to boost U.S. smartphone sales

The ZTE nubia 5 mobile telephone is shown at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada January 8, 2014. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Chinese smartphone maker ZTE Corp is planning to sponsor more NBA teams to boost its brand in the United States where the company aims to become the No. 3 smartphone vendor in three years time.

The Shenzhen-based company currently sponsors three U.S. National Basketball Association and tripled its U.S. marketing expenses last year. Its smartphone shipments to the world’s second-biggest market jumped more than 50 percent in 2014 and it is targeting a further 20 percent rise this year.

“We see good return on investment so we are going to expand (sponsorship) to more teams,” the company’s U.S. CEO Lixin Cheng told Reuters in an interview. He declined to comment on the matter further.

The jump in shipments has come despite U.S. lawmakers often voicing security concerns about Chinese telecommunications equipment.

ZTE had a U.S. market share in smartphones of 6 percent in the first quarter, ranking a distant fourth behind Apple Inc, Samsung Electronics Co Ltd and LG Electronics Inc, according to research firm Strategy Analytics.

The company has been expanding its smartphone business overseas amid a slowdown in sales at home and the rise of domestic rival Xiaomi Inc [XTC.UL].

Its 8 percent growth in annual operating revenue in 2014 was primarily driven by its network equipment divisions, which builds telecoms networks for governments and companies.

Reporting by Yimou Lee; Editing by Edwina Gibbs

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