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  • Writer's pictureDenis Green

China Sports Business Weekly | 10th April

Coming next Wednesday to your inbox: The post COVID-19 Playbook - Opportunities for global sports post COVID-19 in China.

Welcome to the latest edition of the China Sports Business Weekly.

Making the headlines this week: the Chinese Basketball Association teams up with China Mobile’s Migu to breathe life back into the sports industry, Chelsea FC delivers first-ever Weibo & Douyin live stream digital fan party, industry experts discuss China’s sports landscape beyond COVID-19, Michael Jordan wins trademark battle, iQiyi is accused of fraud, China travel resumes during national holiday, and Sony invests $400M in entertainment platform Bilibili.

In a bumper From The Top edition this week, we spoke to Celine Shao, Special Assistant to the CEO at the Chinese Basketball Association, about the recently announced CBA and Migu partnership. 

We also caught up with Chen Diandian, Founder of Ecosports, a prominent Chinese sport business media group, about changes in the Chinese sports fan, the importance of esports in the current climate, the relevance of archive footage to Chinese fans, that CBA deal, and China’s new normal. 

Top Industry News

1) CBA & Migu Announce Comprehensive Partnership Worth RMB 2 Billion Migu, a subsidiary of telecoms provider China Mobile, has signed a five-year wide-ranging agreement with the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA). The deal includes exclusive IPTV rights, non-exclusive streaming rights, and an Official Partner title, while both sides will work together on the development of 5G technology to elevate the digital product of the league. The agreement is reportedly worth around US$283M. Read more on China Daily (English) and Sina (Chinese)

Mailman Take: A timely boost for the industry and a positive sign brands are still seeing value in sports. Despite the on-going delay of the season, this announcement will instill confidence in fans, media, brands, and sponsors that when the season returns, it will do so with digital prowess and an upgraded technical platform to elevate the local basketball economy. We’re all excited to see the CBA 2.0 in action, soon.

2) Chelsea FC Deliver First-Ever Football Club Live Stream on Weibo & Douyin The Premier League club engaged its fan community online in China with a mixture of exclusive content, Q&A’s, giveaways, and musical performances while reviewing their record-breaking 04/05 season. The 2-hour special reached 7.5M total views and 2M hashtag reads. Read more on SportsPro (English) and Xinhua (Chinese)

Mailman Take: This is a sign of the times in China as fans flock together online to celebrate special moments and engage with one another, virtually. Demand is increasing for more platforms & opportunities that provide fans a voice and source of entertainment. And this goes beyond simply sport, think eCommerce, fitness & health, esports, music, and fashion - all these industries are witnessing growth right now post COVID-19 in China.

3) China’s Sports Industry Looks Beyond COVID-19

Mailman Group CEO Andrew Collins and Shoto Zhu, founder and president of Oceans Marketing, spoke to SportBusiness about how the Chinese sports industry is starting to think about life after the COVID-19 shutdown. Watch the video interview on SportBusiness (English)

4) Michael Jordan Wins Legal Battle with Qiaodan Sports The Chinese sportswear company lost the case for using NBA legend Michael Jordan's Chinese name as its own. Jordan also sued QIaodan for infringement of portrait rights, stating their trademark is very similar to the silhouette of Jordan's famous move. Read more on CGTN (English) and Sina (Chinese)

5) iQiyi Accused of Fraud The Chinese video streaming site has been accused of inflating its financial numbers. Dubbed the ‘Netflix of China’, iQiyi denies the accusations stating its financial report “contains numerous errors, unsubstantiated statements and misleading conclusions.” Read more on CNBC (English) and Ifeng (Chinese)

Best of the Rest

China Travels Again, Domestically Last weekend saw the first national holiday since the country-wide lockdown was lifted, where residents were able to travel. Famous tourist sites such as the Yellow Mountain and Shanghai Bund Waterfront were packed with visitors. The next main holiday will take place in May, and from a survey of 15,000 people, 90% would prefer to travel domestically, with destinations like Yunnan, Hainan Island and Shanghai taking the top three preferences. Read more on CNN (English) and Ifeng (Chinese)

Sony Invests $400M into Entertainment Platform Bilibili What started out as an animation site, Bilibili has expanded into other categories including esports, user-generated music videos, documentaries, and games. The platform has amassed over 130M users while attracting investors including Tencent and Alibaba. The $400M investment is reportedly worth a 4.98% stake in the company. Read more on Tech Crunch (English) and Sina (Chinese)

From The Top

Celine Shao, Special Assistant to the CEO at the Chinese Basketball Association 1. How important is this partnership with Migu in growing the CBA's brand digitally in China?

The five-season deal is part of a wide-ranging strategic partnership between both sides. Migu and China Mobile, utilising their first-class technological support, will enable the CBA and its resources to rival the very top sports leagues in the world in this area.

2. What value can Migu bring to the CBA which it has been lacking in the past?

The CBA and Migu will collaborate and build a 5G Lab together to set new standards, including a smart venue, high-quality standard production such as 4K/8K, VR, and more ways to experience the sport in AR.

There are currently 970M users of China Mobile on mobile, and more than 200M in households, which will enable the CBA to reach more fans and families across the country. To add to this, 5G service will be available in all CBA arenas throughout China, as well as an abundance of innovative consumer products. 

3. In a period of no live sport around the world, this deal will deliver hope to many that sports still remain important & valuable. What messages do you hope this deal will give to the rest of the sports industry in China and globally?

Sport is always something that can cheer people up, both physically and mentally. In a world fighting against COVID-19, the CBA League, its 20 teams, along with CBA players, coaches, and referees, have done a lot of things to keep encouraging people to get through hard times. 

In this case, China's most important state-owned company is committing its dedication & confidence to basketball in China, which in turn will become a positive and important part of Chinese citizens’ lives. We also have a lot of foreign players, coaches, and colleagues working in the league and clubs, and they show their faith in the fight against COVID-19. The CBA league also prides itself as a national league with international influence. And China still is the most important market for both brands and consumer products.

4. What can we expect to see in the coming years from the Migu & CBA partnership? There will be a much higher quality feed production and broadcast, along with a multiple choice of feeds and angles to watch the game. A better in-stadium experience in arenas will also be available with faster & stronger internet service and food & entertainment service. The CBA will also produce more family-friendly content on terrestrial TV through utilising China Mobile’s high-penetration rate with its broadband service. Finally, there will be plenty more CBA products for fans and more commercial opportunities for CBA marketing partners and sponsors.

Chen Diandian, Founder of Ecosports

1. What have been the most notable changes you've seen from sports fans in recent weeks in how they consume and engage with sports properties and sports-related news? Obviously, online is the major way to consume and engage with sports. We have to admit that it is very painful for sports fans and very harmful to sports business at present. But if you observe the social media interaction, you can see users and followers are as active as ever, possibly even more active than before. The discussion and interaction with sports IP seem higher than usual, possibly a lack of live sport makes fans crave more content. In addition, sports news which relates to the COVID-19 is obviously difficult to take for sports fans and the whole society. 

2. It's clearly been a boon time for esports with no live sports action. What impact have you seen in this area and can esports overtake traditional sports in popularity one day in China? Indeed, the current situation gives esports an opportunity to attract more fans and followers. But we need to understand the developing trend of esports is inevitable even without this special period. I believe esports will be a significant entertainment source in the long term. However, we can not predict that one day esports will overtake traditional sports in terms of popularity. Firstly, a certain amount of the fans of these two areas overlap, esports and traditional sports can synergise with each other and create a bigger impact. Moreover, the fanbase of traditional sports in China is still growing and has huge developing potential.  

3. What's been the general reaction from China's sports fans to no live sport? How much do they miss it and what content has been impressing them the most? As I said above, Chinese sports fans do feel sad and kind of empty as more and more Chinese treat live sport as part of their daily life and routine. But I realised a very interesting phenomenon with sports fans. They have been watching plenty of classic matches and tournaments and enjoy it. They not only talk about the game but most importantly, they want to appreciate the old-time memories. The slowing down period gives sports fans a special moment to enjoy the past. 

A lot of Chinese sports fans are still relatively young, and haven't had the chance to witness stars from the 70’s or 80’s. This is the perfect opportunity for fans to understand the heritage and history of their teams to help develop even stronger relationships and feelings. Without this situation, they may never have had the chance. 

4. The CBA just signed a notable partnership with Migu. Is this a new era of 5G sport and how important is this deal to giving positivity back into the China sports industry?

It is definitely a positive signal for China's sports industry. The commercialisation development of the CBA is outstanding recently. This deal reflects the brand value and impact of the CBA. Moreover, China has its unique business context and maybe China’s sports industry needs more support from state-owned corporations just like China Mobile/Migu.

5. People are talking about a 'new normal' post-COVID-19 in China. What's your take on this and what changes do you expect to happen?

We can see the condition in China is getting better and more and more people return to the daily routine. I deem after the COVID-19 crisis, more Chinese realise the vital role of sport and physical exercise. Sports-related consumption will witness fast growth and people will appreciate much more live sports games in the future. 


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Headquartered in Shanghai, China, Mailman is a global sports digital consultancy and agency. We help the world’s leading sports organisations serve their audiences and build their businesses. With over 200 experts across the globe we specialise in digital strategy, transformation, social media, content production and eCommerce. Learn more about our story here.


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