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  • Writer's pictureDenis Green

China Sports Business Weekly | 11th Match

Hello Industry Friends, here are the very latest news and insights from China.

📰 Headlines: iQiyi pulls Premier League coverage, Adidas cuts China chief, Yu Jing makes ice hockey history, five observations from Beijing 2022, F1 partners with Lenovo, Nike promotes women’s sports in China, and Sports Marketing Matters.

🗣 In this week’s From The Top, we spoke with Alex Hua Tian, Chinese Olympic Eventer, about his journey into equestrianism, his ultimate goals, thoughts on the grassroots and education systems, opportunities for the sport to grow in China, and commercialisation opportunities for the sport.

Photo Credit: akplus2019 | Photographer: HONG


🗞️ Top Industry News Premier League Broadcaster Pulls Coverage in China Chinese streaming platform iQiyi Sports pulled live coverage of English Premier League matches last weekend due to the league’s displays of solidarity with Ukraine. iQiyi informed the Premier League that it would be removing the coverage following the league’s announcement that a “moment of reflection and solidarity” would be held before matches at the weekend, in support of Ukraine. Read more on SportBusiness (English)

💡 Mailman Take: Western sports organisations are no strangers to having their coverage blocked in China, with the Premier League the latest to be affected. Their 'moment of reflection and solidarity was not the message that iQiyi Sports wanted delivered to their viewers and quickly made the decision to pull the plug. We expect coverage of matches that plan to have official pro-Ukraine demonstrations to be continually pulled off the air. Adidas Cuts China Chief The global brand has changed its top management in China after losing market share to domestic brands following a consumer boycott over its stance on Xinjiang cotton. The move follows a fall in sales in the region of roughly 15 percent for two consecutive quarters last year. Read more FT (English) and Ecosports (Chinese) China's Yu Makes Ice Hockey History China's paralympic ice hockey international Yu Jing pulled off a feat managed previously by only two women, as she took to the ice for her country in Para ice hockey at the Beijing Winter Games. Yu played five minutes in the second period and joined Norwegians Brit Mjaasund Oeyen and Lena Schroeder as the only women to have competed in ice hockey at the Paralympics. Read more on Reuters (English) and (Chinese) F1 Signs Lenovo Sponsorship Deal The multi-year deal makes Lenovo an Official Partner of Formula 1 ahead of the upcoming 2022 season, meaning Lenovo’s technology will be implemented across F1’s operations, including at its headquarters and Grand Prix events. Read more on SportBusiness (English) and Lanxiong Sports (Chinese) Nike & China’s Sports Personalities Partner for Women’s Sports The American sportswear manufacturer set up a roundtable talk including four of China’s most recognisable sports faces, including Li Na, Liu Xiang, Wu Haiyan and Wang Shanshan. Centred around the topic of “You’re Born to be Ready”, the talk hopes to inspire girls in China. Read more on Dao (English) and Jiemian (Chinese) AMX Brings On Zhou Guanyu The popular Chinese yogurt brand announced F1 driver Zhou Guanyu as its brand ambassador ahead of the new F1 season. AMX will leverage Zhou’s rising popularity to help promote the brand. Read more on Ecosports (Chinese) Jerry Shang to Compete at Indian Wells Masters

The teenage tennis prodigy will become the first Chinese to compete at the Indian Wells Masters after his opponent retired injured before their qualifying match. Read more on Global Times (Chinese)


🎮 Esports Esports Blast: February With Chinese New Year being celebrated around the country, China’s esports landscape slowed down in February. Nevertheless, there were several key partnerships and market developments worth noting. Read more on Esports Insider (English)


🤔 Opinion Five Observations From Beijing 2022 The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics delivered some important lessons and milestones for the sports industry. There were further strides in the digitalisation of sport, as well as significant progress towards sustainability and demonstrating that large-scale sporting events can, in fact, be “green”. Sponsorship was a challenge, but Chinese brands in particular showed increasing levels of sports marketing sophistication. Mailman China Managing Director Justin Tan explains more SportBusiness (English) and Mailman (Chinese)

Can Adidas’ New Executive Revive the Brand’s Sales in China? International sports conglomerates are under pressure in China, where both Nike and adidas have seen their sales plummet. In the second fiscal quarter of 2022, Nike’s revenue in Greater China was only $1.84B, down 20 percent year-on-year. Similarly, adidas’ local revenue fell $650M in the third fiscal quarter of 2021. Read more on Jing Daily (English)


🎫 Events

Sports Marketing Matters: Getting Noticed to Build Fan Communities Your team/player/club/league/event/tournament is a brand and brands need fans. But for most, the fans won’t come to you. You have to take it to them. The Sports Marketing Matters module will show you how to market your content, players, brands and even tickets above and below the line using social and traditional media delivered by ad agencies, sports agencies and media platforms. Register on Sports Matters (English)


🎙️ From The Top 🗣 Alex Hua Tian, Chinese Olympic Eventer 1. What is equestrian to you, and how do you interpret it?

To me equestrianism, which is the culture behind equestrian sports, is about the partnership between horse and rider - it's about the training, the management and then the competition of horse and rider, and how to demonstrate that partnership and how to test that partnership. The partnership is built on many different things, and the most important thing is trust.

We call the values and the skills that we need to develop that trust and develop that partnership, we call that horsemanship. Horsemanship values include respect, responsibility, compassion, and then the technical skills, the technical knowledge of horsemanship, which is the knowledge of how to look after a horse, how to manage your horse, how to train a horse, and how to compete a horse.

And then there's equestrian sport, which is the ultimate test of the partnership between horse and rider. Obviously, in Olympic equestrian sports, you have three different ones: you have pure dressage, pure showjumping, and my sport - eventing - which to me is the purest sport.

And I guess the final point to that is why is that partnership something that is so aspirational and people love so much. It might sound quite obvious, but to me, it is that trust between unspoken trust between a human and an animal.

2. How would you assess the current grassroots education and development of equestrianism in China? What are the equestrian concepts from the UK that are suitable for the development of the Chinese equestrian industry?

The overall equestrian sports and equestrian industry in China is growing extremely quickly, especially at the grassroots level as many families, kids, and also adults are starting to learn to ride. There are more and more riding schools being built, and therefore the sport and the culture are becoming more accessible.

Of course, it’s still a small sport that is quite expensive and inaccessible, but it is becoming closer to communities and for me that’s really exciting. We can see that already starting to filter through to some older kids in their teenage years, or maybe in their early 20s, we're seeing more riders coming through at the higher level who are younger.

That said, the education system for equestrianism in China is quite confusing, with the many different systems, many different types of systems, and many different sports, opportunities and pitfalls, all of which make it quite fragmented and quite confusing. Some systems I feel are better than others, some systems are more suitable for the Chinese market and the position it's in at the moment than others.

For me, I support anything that is rigorous, that puts horse management on at least as important a level as writing and teaching. I believe that the British system, which is a system that I've grown up with and I know quite well, is a suitable system for China. Not only because I'm half British, but because to me, it’s a system that’s very rigorous, and really demands that all students have to have a broad knowledge of horses and horsemanship as well as the care of horses and the management of horses, added to the riding and the training. And that to me is what I feel the Chinese market really needs at this stage in its development, broad rigour in its system.

3. What are the future opportunities for the sport in China and where’s China’s next equestrian Olympian coming from?

I think there are huge opportunities for equestrian sports in China. For the short-to-medium term, certainly for the next 10 years, the growth in China will be very much along the same lines as the last 10 years. More riding schools, encouraging more grassroots riding, trying to build the breadth of the sport across as much of China as possible, and making the sport more accessible.

Once you build the breadth, as we are starting to see already, you start to see kids and families who are more interested in the higher end of the sport, and not only interested in the enjoyment of spending time around horses, because that's not enough for them. More riders are looking to represent China and compete in national championships, and maybe even the Olympic Games and World Championships in the future.

Although there are a huge number of very talented riders in China, I think it will be the riders who take that next level of risk outside of their comfort zone and take that step outside of China and seek opportunities internationally. Those will be the riders who will get the opportunities to go to the Olympic Games and all, but that is a really hard thing culturally and financially.

Photo credit: akplus2021 | Photographer: Libby Law

4. What was it that got you into equestrianism in the first place, and what advice would you give to your younger self?

My mum got me into riding horses first. She’s British and had a very traditional British horsey upbringing. When I was growing up, we were living in Beijing at the time, and my mom, wherever she lived around the world, whether it was Beijing, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, or the UK, she's always had to have horses in her life. In Beijing, I first started in the stables as a baby spending time around the horses, when my mum was riding, just being comfortable in their space.

I then started riding when I was four years old on a little white pony, and I guess for me, it was very much an activity that I did with my mum. It was just part of my life, I would wake up, go to school, and then on the way back from school, we would go to the stables, and that would be something that I would do every day. As I got older, I got a little bit better, and I started doing some competitions, which resulted in getting a bigger and better horse, all the way up until the Olympics when I was 18 years old. It was just a very natural, organic progression.

I'm not sure what I would say to myself as a child now. I had very good advice from both my mum and dad at the time, especially around horses. My mum told me lots of things that really helped me develop into the rider and the person that I am now. One of the things she told me when I first fell off was, to be a good rider, you have to fall off seven times, and that really helped, and it surprised me at the time, but also really helped me understand that you have to fail and fall off so many times before you can learn how to be a good rider. And I think that really applies to many things in life, everything in life, to be honest.

The second thing she taught me, of the many things she taught me about horses, which I think apply to life, is when I finished my lesson and I was hot and sweaty and thirsty, and my horse was hot, sweaty and thirsty, as the rider, it is my responsibility to make sure that my pony was washed off, comfortable, had a drink, and was back in a stable and comfortable before I was allowed to go and make myself comfortable.

5. What have been the biggest highlights of your career so far, and what is your ultimate career goal?

If I had to pick one, it would be eighth place at the Rio Olympic Games, closely followed by my individual silver and bronze medals at the Asian Games. But I think for me, the Olympics is the Olympics. It is the ultimate stage. It's the whole world coming together. It means so much more than just yourself or the sport.

It's a movement that I really aspire to and believe in. And to come out in Rio 2016 was absolutely fantastic because it was a result that I was not expecting. I obviously fell off at my first Olympics in Beijing 2008. I missed London 2012 and 2016, and honestly, I was just happy to be in Rio and to make it into the individual final was fantastic, but to finish in the top 10 was very special.

6. With the rapid development of equestrianism in China, what stage do you think the commercialisation of equestrian sport in China has reached and what values can equestrian bring to brands?

The development of the grassroot sports, the amount of stables and infrastructure being built in the last 10 years, and I think in the future, is exciting. Having said that, I think the market has a long way to go, it's still quite a small sport, it's still quite inaccessible in China, there's a lot more that we as a sport have to do to promote the sport in the right way to make it relatable and accessible for as many families as possible. There are two areas of opportunity in the future for commercialisation within the industry, but also using the positioning of equestrian sports, for brands outside of the industry. Within the industry, we have all of the services management: the vets, the physiotherapists, the groomers, the riders, as then obviously, all of the goods, the apparel, the tack, the equipment. As well as obviously the horse side, which is the breeding, the developing of the horse, the sport side. All of these things come together to develop a strong equestrian industry and economy.

An interesting area of commercialisation for equestrian sports is actually outside of the industry. In the mainstream sphere, where equestrian sports is very much seen for various different reasons, as a very aspirational activity, perhaps that's because of the very beautiful venues, the value of the horses at the top level of the sport, the successful, wealthy horse owners who are involved in the sports. These are all things that come together to give this very aspirational image and at times elitist.

I personally don't believe in this elitist image, but I think there are some brands that use this to help them with their brand positioning to the mainstream consumer. And the mainstream consumer perhaps doesn't understand the sport that well, but they understand the positioning that the sport uses. It's been used, for example, by Polo with equestrian - anything with a horse is seen as very high level, very exclusive, very elite.

This is quite an outdated approach for first of all selling equestrian sports, but also for using horses and equestrian sports for positioning brands. The new generations of consumers are looking for something a little bit with something with a little bit more depth than just exclusive and elite. To me equestrian sports can provide so much more depth than just that.

Equestrian sports, at the real heart, is about horsemanship, it's about partnership, it's about harmony, it's about respect, responsibility, compassion. And obviously the sport is the best way to demonstrate that. And so therefore, I know, in my opinion, brands who are looking to use that, those values, those values of horsemanship of humanity. I believe that that is a far stronger and deeper way to use equestrian sports to help to promote brands and to promote the sport itself.


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