• Denis Green

2021 China Sports Forum: Emerging Areas of Growth Post-Covid-19


On Tuesday afternoon in Shanghai, we were proud to partner with AmCham Shanghai for their 2021 China Sports Forum. Below is a summary of the event.

As China’s sports market continues to grow in the lead-up to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, some of the country’s top industry innovators came together for AmCham Shanghai’s 2021 Sports Forum. The leaders swapped ideas and perspectives on the biggest opportunities and challenges in today’s market; from winter sports to e-sports, from the changing face of brand partnerships to the rapidly evolving environment for content distribution, as well as on the surge in grassroots participation.


Sports committee Chairman Mark Fischer kicked off the conference with opening remarks about the state of the industry in China. The industry has grown thanks both to an expanding consumer base and government support for health and fitness. While the past couple years have slogged through a slew of cancelled in-person events due to Covid, other pockets of growth have emerged and there is more excitement ahead in China sports, particularly with the Beijing Games just around the corner.

The first panel of the day “Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and the Growth of the Winter Sports Industry in China,” was moderated by Michael Lin, Senior Business Director of Mailman Group, and featured speakers Justin Downe, President of Axis Leisure Management, and Craig Smith, CEO of Burton China. The three executives discussed the popularity of snowboarding in China, and the rise of skiing and ski resort vacations as a lifestyle. Snow resorts have exploded across China in recent years, as more families choose to spend their holidays on the slopes.


The second panel focused on trends in China’s sports media landscape and featured panelists Roy Jia, Director, Media and Business Development of NFL China, Sergi Torrents, Managing Director of Laliga, Jay Li, VP, International at WWE and John Steere, SVP & MD at 160over90. Denis Green, Head of Communications at Mailman Group, served as the moderator.


As the number of streaming platforms available to sports fans continues to expand, the panelists agreed that content owners must creatively “slice and dice” their content to reach consumers across the digital ecosystem. Some leagues have continued to sign exclusive distribution deals with specific platforms, while others have spread their content across platforms such as Douyin, Kuaishou and Bilibili. Even more innovative forms of digital monetization have meanwhile emerged in the form of NFT’s and the “metaverse”.

Mark Fischer moderated the forum’s third discussion on the changing landscape for events and brand partnerships. Panelists included Echo Li, Managing Director, Greater China and Senior Vice President, Global Partnerships of Sportfive Greater China, Ricky Tong, Vice President at NBA China, Jason Shi, Director of Marketing at Hyperice China and Brittany Li, Relationship Director of Manchester United.


The panelists noted several key trends in the sector, including greater domestication of brand sponsorships, the decentralization of events and media management and the growing popularity of on-location brand assets, such as Manchester United’s experience center in Beijing. The Olympics and e-sports have become two of the most sought-after areas for sponsorships; while the Olympics will fade in popularity some after the Games, e-sports will remain a lucrative branding opportunity moving forward.


The forum’s fourth panel focused on grassroots participation in sports, youth development and fitness trends, with moderator Tor Peterson, Senior Consultant at Eastbridge Sports Management. Panelists included Vance Lin, Director, Business Development of MLB China, Diane Long, Co-Founder of Active Kidz Shanghai, Nic Nie, GM at Pacificpine Sports Shanghai, and Ronnie Cai, Managing Partner and COO at Orangetheory Fitness China. Youth sports continue to grow in China as more parents find value in sports skills and teamwork.


The final panel of the day explored the rapid growth of esports in China, and featured speakers Josh Lee, Head of Esports/Tournaments at Perfect World Esports, Eric Oetting, Founder and CEO of Planet O, Gary Mi, Head of Operations at DRL China, Johnson Jiang, Director, Asia Business of Blizzard Entertainment/Overwatch League. Anthony Wong, CEO of RYFT Esports Agency, served as moderator.


Esports has exploded in popularity in China, with brands now securing high-level sponsorship deals and viewership reaching into the hundreds of millions. Even as companies brace for the impact of tightening regulations around gaming in China, the panelists were optimistic about the continued rise of the sector.



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