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  • Writer's pictureDenis Green

China Sports Business Weekly | 13th September

Here are the top China sports business news stories you need to know from this week. In this edition, my From the Top interview is with Richard Young, Managing Director of NFL China. We talk about how the NFL resonates with Chinese fans, building direct audiences, social consumption, Taylor Rapp and what we can expect to see in the 100th year of the NFL.

Wanda Sports China Hires New CEO The subsidiary of Chinese sports marketing company Wanda Sports Group has appointed Yimin Gao as president and chief executive officer, replacing Dongwei Yang, who reportedly resigned for personal reasons. Gao’s appointment coincides with the release of Wanda Sports Group’s second-quarter financial results, which showed a 30 percent fall in revenue to $311.8m. Read more on SportBusiness (English) and JIEMIAN (Chinese)

Mailman Take: Wanda Sports has been making headlines in recent months for all sorts of reasons. Following a downsized IPO and decreasing revenue, a change at the helm is unlikely to see any immediate impact across the board, but the now public-listed company will come under further scrutiny if revenue continues to drop. 

Weibo & NBA Announce Fan Night The National Basketball Association (NBA) and Weibo, the official social media platform of NBA China, announced that Weibo NBA Fan Night presented by Dongfeng Nissan, a free fan event featuring Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets players and Chinese celebrities, will be held Wednesday, Oct. 9 at the Oriental Sports Center in Shanghai. Tickets will be free to the public and made available through a series of interactive promotions conducted by NBA China’s digital and marketing partners. Read more on NBA China (Chinese)

Nike Unveils Jerseys for Chinese League of Legends Teams The American multinational corporation has unveiled the official jerseys that the League of Legends (LOL) teams will wear starting next year. Each team will wear similar kits, using a standardised jersey design that features a single-button collar and a chevron across the chest. Read more on The Verge (English) and Global Times (Chinese) Herbalife Donates $1.5m to Beijing Sport University The global nutrition company will donate $1.5 million from the China Growth and Impact Investment Program to the Beijing Sport University Education Foundation, to further nutrition research and assist in the development of winter sports in China. Read more on Business Wire (English) and Sohu (Chinese)

In Other News

Jack Ma Retires The Alibaba founder is stepping down and handing over to his handpicked successor, Daniel Zhang. Ma, who announced his retirement as chairman of the company last year, will celebrate his final day, as well as his 55th birthday, at an Olympic-sized sports stadium in Hangzhou - where he founded the company 20 years ago. Read more on CNN (English) and Sina (Chinese)

Mailman Take: Shoes don’t come much bigger to fill than Jack Ma’s. The relatively unknown Daniel Zhang has the unenviable job of taking over the reins from Ma at one of the world’s biggest and most successful companies. Good luck, Daniel. 

Elkeson Bags Brace in China Debut The Brazilian-born striker scored two goals on his debut for China as part of 5-0 win over Maldives. More players are expected to join Elkeson and international teammate Nico Yennaris once eligible to play for China. Read more on SCMP (English) and Beijing Daily (Chinese)

Mailman Take: Eyebrows and questions were raised when Elkeson was granted his naturalisation status. But if he can continue to stick the ball in the net and guide China to Qatar 2022, then the cynics will disappear and he could become a strong fan favourite among Chinese fans.


From the Top

This week I spoke to Richard Young, Managing Director of NFL China.

1. What aspects of the sport are resonating best with Chinese fans? The resounding feedback from our fans is that they want to see more content diving into the game strategy, tactics, play analysis and breakdown. They appreciate the highly intellectual, strategic elements of the game and are looking to go deeper. We’ve heard them, and this season we’re working with broadcast partners like Tencent to deliver more gameplay breakdown and strategic analysis - both in-game during live broadcasts with Tencent’s commentators and through fan interactions - as well as with game previews (what to watch for), recaps and highlights. There is a very strong demand for NFL’s quality content.

2. Teams are starting to build direct audiences in China, with the Patriots now leading the way. Do you see this trend continuing? It’s fun to see the growing interest from NFL teams to engage and communicate directly with their Chinese fans. We’ve seen solid growth in followers and engagement across our league social accounts over the past seasons with a 23% increase in followers and a 20% increase in engagement in 2018 alone. Our goal is always to drive fandom and increase avidity – which most often comes when fans make an emotional connection with players and/or teams and then actively choose to follow and engage with that player and team.

In addition to more gameplay analysis and strategy/tactics breakdown, fans are also telling us that they want to know more about their favorite team. Not just the on-field game and player highlights – they want the helmet off, behind-the-scenes, get-to-know-you-as-a-person type content and that level of access is something that our teams are great at offering. We’re proud to have all 32 NFL teams with a presence on Weibo and have seen an increasing number of teams engaging and investing resources to do more to connect with their China fans, resulting in a 47% increase in followers of specific NFL teams and a 22% increased in teams’ Weibo engagement.

Last season, the New England Patriots were the first NFL team to make a conscious decision to grow and engage their Chinese fanbase by investing and actively creating content, including Gillette Stadium TV and The Tom Brady Show, produced specifically for their Weibo and WeChat followers. These efforts resulted in the series achieving over 15.8 million video views and propelled the Patriots to be the most followed NFL team on Chinese social media. Other teams found creative ways to serve their Chinese fans – from hiring a Mandarin-speaking correspondent to cover and share game-day experiences or running China-specific social campaigns. 

This season, there is an increase in the number of engaged teams each planning their own China-specific initiative. For example, the Dallas Cowboys have launched a major online campaign called “Cowboys University” to teach fans more about the game and Cowboys history; the Pittsburgh Steelers initiated a month-long challenge to find their #1 fan and invite them to watch a live home game; and the Patriots are building on last season's success by embedding a Chinese staff member to follow and report on the team all season long. We’re excited to see how fans react.

3. Short-form video is a strong driver on NFL consumption across the social platforms, how do you consider those rights moving forward? The majority of our games are played at 1am and 4am on workday mornings so we need to improve on getting high quality 20-30 minute highlight packages for each game out to fans in China by 7am local time. That is on the way. High-quality video-on-demand (VOD) content is integral to driving our consumption across social and digital channels. Last season, we saw strong increases across the board with 709 million total video views (+42% year-on-year).

4. What does Taylor Rapp do to inspire greater interest in the Rams and the league? As the NFL’s highest-drafted player of Chinese descent and the Los Angeles Rams’ first pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, Taylor Rapp serves as an inspiration to any local player who has ever heard “Chinese people can’t/aren’t built to play football.” Rapp has openly expressed his mission to be a beacon for Chinese and Asian football players who come after him, providing them with a role model he didn’t have and we’re thrilled that he’s committed to helping grow the game in China.

This season, the Rams are supporting Taylor’s vision by creating a custom documentary-style content series, Un-Rapp’d, which will follow Taylor throughout his rookie year and be published bi-weekly on the Rams Weibo account. The first two episodes can be viewed here and here and so far have been the most viewed posts of all time on Rams’ Weibo. 

5. It's the NFL's 100th year anniversary this year - can we expect anything different during this milestone season? It is an opportunity for our new fans to learn about how the NFL got to where it is now, and for our existing fans to celebrate a meaningful season in NFL history. Fans will see us paying tribute to great players – past and present – our coaches, our teams and our fans, while also looking ahead to the next century of the NFL, which is where China and international markets will undoubtedly be an area of focus and growth. Every week during the season, new content and initiatives will roll out, including an unprecedented amount of original content providing a unique look at NFL history. This will include a series of counting down the NFL’s 100 greatest plays, games, teams, characters and game-changers, and moving NFL Films montages.

In China, we’ll take the opportunity to highlight the great moments that resonate with our current fans – the moments that made them fans – and re-introduce some of those iconic moments to new fans who may just be seeing them for the first time.

At the same time, we’ll be looking ahead to the future of the NFL – spotlighting and telling the stories of the young talent in the league – finding more creative ways to strengthen the connection between our fans, our players and our teams to make the game more locally relevant. And we’re going to have a lot of fun doing it!


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Mailman is a global sports digital agency and marketing platform. We help global rights holders, athletes and brands build a successful business across China, Europe, and Southeast Asia. Learn more about our story here.

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