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  • Writer's pictureDenis Green

China Sports Business Weekly | 13th December

In this week’s edition, Manchester United teams up with Alibaba Group, Anta Sports profits up, Alibaba named Hangzhou 2022 partner, ITTF introduces review system, PP Sports rises in viewership, Joseph Tsai invests in eSports, Seven League Predicts 2020 trends, and more.

My From the Top interview is with Tom Byer, Former Official Advisor to the Ministry of Education of China. We spoke about what improvements have been made in Chinese football this year, how international clubs & federations can help, naturalised players, what the parents say, and the biggest potential growth areas for the game.

Top Industry News:

1) Alibaba Group Claims Manchester United Partnership The partnership includes club content, selected first-team matches, highlights and localised original productions, available to all consumers across Alibaba’s platforms. There will also be a first-of-its-kind, dedicated Manchester United channel on Alibaba’s video-streaming platform, Youku. Read more on Man Utd (English) and Lanxiong Sports (Chinese) Mailman Take: United’s brand remains strong in China with a dedicated app, three experience centers set for 2020 openings, and the Alibaba tie-up highlighting the club’s commitment to the market.

2) Alibaba Group Named on Prestigious Level for Hangzhou 2022 The Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games Organising Committee delivered a Prestige-level partnership to Alibaba Group in the information technology, cloud services, and fintech services categories. Alibaba’s cloud data technology will be utilised by Hangzhou 2022’s IT systems, including competition results, event management, and support systems. Read more on SportBusiness (English) and China Daily (Chinese)

Mailman Take: No surprises here then as Hangzhou is the home of Alibaba Group. Come the 2022 Games, there will be AliPay, AliCloud, just about Ali-Everything as the Chinese mega-company plasters its name and logo everywhere. Will WeChat pay even be available in the city?

3) PP Sports Claims Rise in Viewership According to the report, produced by Suning-owned PP Sports, average viewership of Chinese Super League games rose 12.1 percent for the 2019 season. The average number of viewers per game was 6.66m, with the total number of viewers over the 240 fixtures reaching 1.6b. Read more on SportBusiness (English) and Sohu (Chinese)

Mailman Take: PP Sports invested a substantial amount of money for these rights and is unlikely to generate any profit from them, certainly not in the short-to-medium term anyway. They need to continue to invest in the product, listen to feedback from viewers, and continuously find new ways to attract new consumers & advertisers.

4) Anta Sports Forecasts Up The Chinese sportswear company expects net profit for this year to rise at least 45 percent from 2018, following strong sales growth, particularly in its retail business. Anta turned over $3.5b in 2018 and hit record half-year revenues of $2.07b in August this year. Read more on SportsBusiness (English) and Sina (Chinese)

5) Reviews Implemented for First Time at ITTF World Tour Grand Finals Players can review decisions made by umpires with the support of Table Tennis Review (TTR), to be introduced at the 2019 ITTF World Tour Grand Finals currently taking place in Zhengzhou. TTR will be implemented by Chinese technology firm RigourTech, selected by the ITTF following a successful tender process. Read more on ITTF (English) and Sina (Chinese) 6) Joseph Tsai Invests $10m in G2 Esports

The billionaire owner of the Brooklyn Nets made his latest investment in sports and entertainment with a minority stake in Berlin-based competitive gaming organisation, G2 Esports. Tsai reportedly invested $10m in G2, which was valued at $165m earlier this year. Read more on SportsPro (English) and Lanxiong Sports (Chinese) _______

From the Top

1. Have you seen any improvements in China’s national football teams, if so, which areas?

It has been a tough year for the senior men’s team. Marcello Lippi has recently resigned when expectations were perhaps too high when he took over the team a few years back. I watched the recent game China played vs Japan in the EAFF Tournament going on now in Korea and I have to say I am very optimistic from watching these young players perform.

China lost 2-1 but there were some very good sequences I saw and China could have easily scored 1 or 2 goals but were a bit unlucky in front of the goal. They still have a couple more games but these are the sort of tournaments that are crucial for developing the next generation of senior national team players.

We need to continue to develop the young players who will be participating in the AFC U16 and U19 tournaments because these tournaments lead to the FIFA U17 & U20 World Cup tournaments which are extremely important.

2. What's been done in 2019 at grassroots to put a brighter outlook on football in China?

One of the most significant initiatives has been the inclusion of kindergarten into the school football program. I believe there are 5,000 kindergarten schools that will be designated football schools which we had a big influence convincing the Ministry of Education to create this program.

The current school campus program which started in 2011 and was reformed in 2015 starts from first grade, 6yrs old, which is the norm around the world. We have been lobbying the Ministry to focus on the younger ages which are kindergartens and the reason for this is simple.

The football world has not caught up to what science already knows, which is, skill acquisition starts much earlier than supposed. So getting to these younger ages will only help to foster a love for the sport early on which is important.

3. What's your take on Western players becoming naturalised and playing for China?

Personally, I’m not a big fan of this policy. Here in Japan, we have had several players in the early ’90s who became naturalized citizens but those players had already spent significant time in Japan and were all fluent in the Japanese language and understood the culture.

I don’t believe we had more than 1 of these types of players on the national team at the time. It was not a policy of the JFA but rather these players desire to want to naturalize and they have remained in Japan post-retirement to the best of my knowledge.

4. What can international sports federations and clubs do to help with the development of grassroots football in China?

The international football federations, clubs, players, academies, etc, do have a role they can play but people need to understand that most of these organizations focus on the elite side of the game. There is no secret sauce on how to develop players. The reality is that out of the 211 FIFA member association countries, only 8 have won a World Cup.

And if you study what’s happening in those countries you’ll find there is a culture in place which is very conducive to developing players. This is extremely difficult to export to other countries because it’s the same serial repeat winners almost every time who win World Cups. Especially when you are talking about professional clubs and their academies. They are finishing schools and scout the best of the best and place them in their academies and teach them how to become professional players.

So where I think these organizations would be useful is with the CSL and other professional teams. Ensuring these organizations are creating the best environment for the best Chinese potential youth players. However, China’s problems run much deeper than what’s happening at the elite level. The gap between the very best and least developed is huge. We need to close this gap at the youngest ages so that China can grow their elite player pool because it will become much more competitive.

5. What's the general feedback you receive when speaking to Chinese parents about their kids playing football?

My experience early on interacting with Chinese parents has been no different than the rest of the world. Most parents are happy to see their children playing football, especially if they are having fun. I think it’s an outdated stereotype however, there is still a large number of parents and educators who view football or all sports as a distraction to education so they don’t want their kids to participate.

In Japan where I spend a lot of time this is exactly the same problem as well. So it’s not just limited to China. Many countries around Asia hold the same idea. We need to do a much better job of educating parents and educators. Physical activity and sports enhance or super-charge academic performance. This is just a fact of life research has proven to be true.

6. What do you identify as the biggest potential growth areas for football in China and when can they realistically be achieved by?

I think the biggest potential growth is with the parents of young children. There are over 120 million Chinese children under the age of 6yrs old. That is a massive demographic that has basically been ignored. I’ve been consistent in my messaging that age group is the future of Chinese Football.

We need to create a culture at home which understands the importance of “ball mastery” which should be taught and encouraged by parents and grandparents as soon as kids can walk. We are championing the idea of “Football Starts at Home.”

I always say that if President Xi Jinping set the goal for the country to win the FIFA U17 World Cup within 10yrs, everyone would be tripping over themselves focusing on today’s 5yr olds!

We need better-educated parents who will prepare their child to enter into organized play. In the strongest football nations around the world the children don’t fall in love with Football. They fall in love with the ball. The ball is their first love which leads to falling in love with the game. It’s that simple!

In Other News

Seven League Releases Digital Trends Report The Team at Seven League spent weeks researching, planning, and producing this excellent, in-depth report on the digital trends to keep an eye out for in 2020 that could impact in sport! You can download the report for free here (English) --

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