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  • Writer's pictureDenis Green

China Sports Business Weekly | 12th March

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

Making headlines this week: Sports becomes a hot topic as government officials discuss plans to develop a powerhouse, Zhang Weili set to defend her title in April against Rose, WTT signs DHS as first global partner, Decathlon China announces cooperation with Alibaba Cloud, Perfect Diary named partner of Chinese gymnastics team, GK Gaming appoints K-pop star Z.Tao as new co-CEO.

In this week’s From The Top, we spoke with Echo Li, Managing Director, Greater China & Senior Vice President, Global Partnerships at SPORTFIVE, about SPORTFIVE’s journey in China, new partnerships with football organisations, working with esports team T1 during the World Championships in China, and adapting to challenges during COVID-19 .. Top Industry News

1. China’s Sports Powerhouse Becomes Hot Topic at China's "Two Sessions" China’s blueprint for building a sports powerhouse has been a hot topic at the annual ‘Two Sessions’ this week. Members attending placed importance on expanding areas for physical exercise and achieving development of youth sports, competitive sports, and the sports industry. "Places for taking physical exercises are required in communities, schools, and other public areas to cater to different groups including children, elderly people, and those with disabilities," said Yang Yang, China's first-ever Winter Olympic champion. Read more on Xinhua (English) and Xinhuanet (Chinese)

2. Zhang Weili to Defend Title Against Rose at UFC261 Exactly one year to the day since Zhang Weili successfully defended her strawweight title in Vegas in a ‘Fight of the Year’ battle against Joanna Jedrzejczyk, China’s first-ever UFC champion has her next title defence confirmed. Taking place on April 25, Zhang Weili will take to the Octagon against challenger and expected opponent Rose Namajunas. Read more on SCMP (English) and ChinaNews (Chinese)

3. WTT Signs DHS as First Global Partner Shanghai Double Happiness (DHS), a household name associated with table tennis, has become the first ever global partner of World Table Tennis (WTT). As part of the partnership, DHS will further apply their equipment innovation to WTT events, engage fans through WTT’s digital and social channels, and support the ITTF’s developmental efforts globally. Read more on Around The Rings (English) and Sina (Chinese)

4. Decathlon China Announces Cooperation with Alibaba Cloud Decathlon announced that it has signed a cooperation agreement with Alibaba Cloud, a cloud computing and artificial intelligence company of Alibaba Group. The deal will strengthen the construction of new sports retail sites and accelerate Decathlon's digital transformation and new retail innovation development in China, relying on the strength of the industrial ecosystems of both sides. Read more on China Daily (Chinese)

5. Perfect Diary Named Official Partner of Chinese Gymnastics Team

The fashion beauty brand will work with the Chinese women's gymnastics team to redefine the "sense of being a young girl" as a blessing for self-confidence. Perfect Diary is a fast-growing brand, having only been founded in 2016. Read more on Ifeng (Chinese)

6. Inter Milan Signs Deal with Industrial Group Riello

The sponsorship deal with Italian industrial group Riello sees the company become an official regional partner in mainland China. Riello designs and manufactures technology for heating and cooling in the residential, commercial and industrial sectors. It is the second China deal for Inter Milan this year, the first being a tie-up with LD Sports in January. Read more on SportBusiness (English) and Xinhuanet (Chinese) 7. India’s Dream Sports No Longer Seeking Investment from China The co-founder of Dream Sports, Harsh Jain, which owns India’s largest fantasy sports platform Dream11, stated they will not turn to Chinese investors to raise funds. In an interview with India’s Economic Times, Jain said: “We are not looking to raise money ever again from Chinese investors. We are in a unique position of being a product that’s made in India, only by Indians and for Indians.” Tencent currently owns less than 10 percent of Dream Sports, and has been reducing its stake in recent months due to on-going political tensions between China and India. Read more on SportBusiness (English)

Esports GK Gaming Appoints K-Pop Star Z.Tao as New Co-CEO Chinese Honor of Kings team GK Gaming has appointed Chinese singer and actor Zitao Huang (Z.Tao) as its new partner and Co-CEO. GK owns a franchise slot in China’s top Honor of Kings competition, King Pro League, and has a home venue in Foshan, Guangzhou. Read more on The Esports Observer (English) and The Paper (Chinese)

Other News

Four Ways Luxury x Esports Will Win Over China’s Gen Zers The race is on for luxury brands to win over esports enthusiasts. Luxury marketers have only recently taken esports seriously in what has become the world’s largest esports market: China. Luxury brands must win over the country’s younger consumers, as millennials now represent more than 70 percent of Tmall’s luxury fashion and lifestyle market. Meanwhile, Gen Z has become the fastest-growing group in China. Read more on Jing Daily (English) and China Licensing Expo (Chinese)

From The Top

Echo Li, Managing Director, Greater China & Senior Vice President, Global Partnerships at SPORTFIVE

1. To start with, how has SPORTFIVE evolved in China over the past five years in regards to business strategy?

I remember when I was tasked to set up the SPORTFIVE China office in 2016, we positioned our business strategy as connecting a holistic list of diversified international sports assets with Chinese brands, with a focus on football marketing, our core pillar in the industry with more than 50 years’ global experience.

Over the past years, I’m proud our team has continued to strengthen our competitive edge by supporting premium Chinese brands like Hisense, taking the center stage of football marketing during 2018 FIFA World Cup, and rising Chinese brands like TikTok penetrating the European market by teaming up with Borussia Dortmund.

Starting from 2019, our global business strategy on esports has gradually shown positive results in China. Supported by our global esports intelligence and close relations forged with publishers like Riot Games, we have been providing strategic consultancy to Chinese brands on the unique value proposition of esports, and are proud to have facilitated partnerships like Hisense x Fnatic and T1 x Kuaishou.

Another key business strategy at SPORTFIVE China is developing a local team of talents from the ground up since I relocated from SPORTFIVE Asia headquarters in Singapore to Shanghai. I truly believe a team of local experts with in-market knowledge and global vision supported by SPORTFIVE global networks could maximise SPORTFIVE’s business potential and success in China.

2. SPORTFIVE announced a number of partnerships with football organisations recently, namely the Royal Belgian Football Association, Atlético Madrid and the Royal Spanish Football Federation. What role does SPORTFIVE play in growing, and eventually monetising, their China businesses?

We are honoured to support the Royal Belgian Football Association, the Real Federación Española de Fútbol and Atlético Madrid’s business development in China, including building marketing strategies, creating regional partnership structures and providing social support. We are encouraged by many international rights holder clients’ trust on us as their reliable partner to navigate the complex market landscape, grow local fanbase, elevate brand presence and create unforgettable fan experiences to give back to their fans in China, which pave way for their successful commercialisation in China.

3. We have also seen news about SPORTFIVE being appointed by LA Lakers to secure their jersey patch sponsor recently. Can you please share more about it?

The Los Angeles Lakers are one of the most prestigious sports franchises globally, and they have built an unbelievably richly-storied championship-calibre brand.

We’re proud that the Los Angeles Lakers have selected SPORTFIVE to leverage our extensive market intelligence, reach and global sales network to identify and secure the ideal partner for the team’s jersey patch across international markets. We are also supporting them to secure sponsorships with international brands.

Since our announcement with the LA Lakers a few weeks ago, we have already received positive market reactions from different regions in the world. We look forward to supporting the LA Lakers to create more win-win partnerships on and off the court with brands who have global ambitions.

4. What were the biggest challenges last year when COVID-19 hit, live sports stopped, and marketing budgets tightened? How did you overcome these challenges?

It’s been a challenging year for everyone in the sports industry due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including our brand clients whose sponsorship rights delivery was heavily affected. We strived to support them by finding solutions with rights holders to co-create digital experiences and creative campaigns to fans and consumers when in-stadium experiences were not possible.

The financial pressure caused by the pandemic has pushed brands to seek immediate sales conversions to guarantee short-term financial results. The attribute of traditional sports marketing is about creating an emotional value and bond that transcends borders, over time. Given this challenge, we turned our effort to esports, which provides brands with opportunities to not only activate sponsorship rights digitally and flexibly, but also deeply engage with young generations with strong consumption power.

With China slowly recovering from the pandemic, we are glad to see Chinese brands’ interests in sports marketing have gradually come back. Our team has been busy working on several exciting partnerships, stay tuned on our announcements in the coming months!


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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 China, Southeast Asia, Europe, and the US, we specialise in digital strategy, transformation, social media, content production and eCommerce. Learn more about our story here.


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