• Denis Green

China Sports Business Weekly | 13th March

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


The pick of the stories this week is Zhang Weili’s monumental victory in Vegas defending her title in a fight dubbed as ‘the greatest women’s mixed martial arts fight in history.’ Also this week, electronics company OPPO partners with the Boston Marathon, the Chinese Basketball Association eyes early April games, Southampton F.C owner Gao Jisheng looks to sell his shares in the club, and Wanda Sports Group announces expected ramifications on business from COVID-19.


We spoke with Cai XueJun, Head Coach of Zhang Weili, about her performance, what it means for the sport in China, the impact the Performance Institute has had in the country, and the future generation of athletes.


Top Industry News

1) Zhang Weili Retains UFC Title in Vegas China’s golden girl Zhang Weili delighted her nation by defending the strawweight title at UFC 248 in Las Vegas against Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Going the 5-round distance, both athletes deserve huge credit in what will surely go down as a fight fit for the Hall of Fame. Her victory has been the talk of the nation this week taking over all social conversations, media headlines, and trending topic lists. Read more on ESPN (English) and Xinhua News (Chinese)


Mailman Take: Zhang Weili crowned as China’s first-ever UFC champion last August in Shenzhen felt like a milestone moment in the country, but this has taken the sport to a whole new level. Zhang Weili will no doubt inspire a new generation of fans and MMA athletes, with this achievement sitting among the greatest and most influential sporting moments ever for China. The eyes of the world will again be on her next fight.


2) OPPO Eyes US Market with Boston Marathon Partnership The Boston Athletic Association signed Chinese smartphone brand OPPO as the latest sponsor of the Boston Marathon on a four-year deal. OPPO has landed big sporting contracts in recent years, including the International Cricket Council, Wimbledon, FC Barcelona, and the League of Legends eSports series. Read more on SportBusiness (English) and Tencent News (Chinese)


Mailman Take: OPPO has moved strategically into sports in recent years. They’ve identified reputable sport IPs and executed efficiently, with tie-ups covering football, tennis, cricket, eSports and now marathons. There have been plenty of Chinese brands diving head-first into international sports organisations with no real strategy or thought process resulting in millions of dollars left wasted on the table. OPPO is proving a successful case study.


3) Chinese Basketball Association Eyes Early April Resumption Positive signs for sport in China as the country’s premier basketball league looks set to resume early next month. The season was due to begin on February 1, but COVID-19 put a halt on proceedings. Games will likely be held behind closed doors, streamed online, and limited to just 2 cities. Read more on CGTN (English) and Beijing Daily (Chinese)


Mailman Take: This needs to be managed and regulated with optimal safety, while other sporting federations will be keeping a close eye on CBA’s proceedings and how they manage the situation. Seeing empty stadiums and games limited to selected cities is tough for fans & players, yet it’s important to focus on the positives as this is the first major sign from China’s sporting authorities of a return to some normality. WIll the CSL be next?


4) Gao Jisheng Puts Southampton F.C. Up for Sale Gao, who owns 80 percent of club shares, is seeking a total valuation for the club of £250m, similar to what he paid for his stake back in August 2017. Gao sold his stake in his Lander Sports Development company to the Chinese government after losses in 2018, however stating in the process that his financial situation had no problems. Read more on SportBusiness (English) and Sina Sports (Chinese)


Mailman Take: Question marks have consistently hovered over Gao’s control of the club and it’s no surprise to see his shares up for sale. Chinese ownership of European football clubs has decreased in recent years with very few successful examples to convince clubs it’s a profitable route to go down. It’s unlikely we’ll see many new Chinese purchases of European football clubs in the upcoming years.


5) Wanda Sports Group Expects Negative Impact on Business

The sports unit of Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda, is preparing for a “material adverse impact” on its business. The main threat is on its mass participation events, having already cancelled or postponed a large number in China, and “based on the current trajectory of the spread of the coronavirus”, has warned that it expects to have to cancel more in the future. Read more on Reuters (English)



From The Top


Cai XueJun, Head Coach of Zhang Weili


1. How proud are you of Zhang Weili and how can this victory inspire a new generation of MMA athletes in China?


I’m extremely proud of her, this is the expected outcome and everything went according to the plan. It was a tough preparation period but she stayed strong throughout.

To be honest, I had thoughts of pulling out due to the outbreak of the coronavirus. However, people in our country didn't back down from it. Having seen all the sad and negative news, Weili said that she wanted to get an inspiring victory for Chinese people. She set a good example for the upcoming talents in the sport. Once you have dedicated 100% like she did, you will get your desired outcome.


2. How has the Performance Institute helped in ZWL’s development and what is it about the PI that will give China an advantage in the coming years?


The PI has had a major positive effect on all athletes who train there, in particular Chinese athletes. PI is the largest MMA training facility in the world, and it allows athletes there to work with the best coaches in the sport early in their careers, which is key to setting a strong platform and mentality.


At the PI, these are valuable resources that Weili and Li Jingliang couldn’t get when they were at the starting points of their careers. Planning was meticulous, and it was built it up brick-by-brick so that these new young athletes can have a shortcut using the greatest facilities in the world and reach the level of their idols, Weili and Leech.

I expect we will see more athletes from China like Weili in the future.


3. What impact will this victory likely have on the people of China & the sport of UFC in the country?


My personal experience would answer this question perfectly. We were having a meal in Chinatown recently and a fan of Weili showed up. She is from Shanghai and married to a Hawaiian. She was very excited and showed us her WeChat moments. She has been a fan of Weili since August 2019. She said that people living abroad like her need an icon like Weili. A lot of people in Chinatown gathered together in restaurants and pubs to watch Weili on Fight Night, and they were all inspired and honored by her victory.


They think that Weili is a strong and inspiring figure who gives overseas Chinese people confidence. Her story gives strength to people from different circles. She’s the perfect example of gaining success through hard work. Her story motivates not only Chinese fighters, but also ordinary people, whether they are businessmen, students or workers. Weili proves that mental toughness is the most important factor for success. I think mental toughness is also vital in the war against coronavirus. All in all, her victory inspired a lot of people, and will continue to do so for many years to come.


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