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  • Writer's pictureDenis Green

China Sports Business Weekly | 15th January

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

Making headlines this week: 2021 League of Legends World Championship Finals Set for Shenzhen, LaLiga Agrees Media Rights Deal with China Mobile, Houston Rockets Return to Tencent, Jeremy Lin Joins the Warriors, PGA Tour China season and China F1 Grand Prix Cancelled.

In this week’s From The Top, we spoke with Leo Lin, Co-CEO of TJ Sports, a Joint Venture established between Tencent & Riot Games, about the year esports had in China in 2020, what to expect at the 2021 Worlds, activating with brands and sports organisations, and thoughts on the recently announced esports hub set to open in Shanghai in 2023.

Top Industry News

1. 2021 League of Legends World Championship Finals Set for Shenzhen This announcement marks the second year in a row the League of Legends (LOL) season will finish in China. Last year’s finals were held in Shanghai with a capped audience, while earlier rounds of the tournament had no spectators. The 2021 tournament will visit a range of Chinese cities before ending in Shenzhen, health and safety permitting. Read more on Reuters (English) and China News (Chinese) Mailman Take: Another showpiece event for China to bolster its position as the global leader in esports. The possibility of full stadiums and teams flying in from overseas means Shenzhen could be home to one of the most impactful events in 2021, providing a platform for fan engagement, sponsor activation and monetisation.

2. LaLiga Agrees to Media Rights Deal with China Mobile The deal includes non-exclusive live streaming rights for all LaLiga matches, as well as matches of Wu Lei’s Espanyol. Coverage will be on China Mobile’s Migu streaming platform, while the deal also includes IPTV rights, with China Mobile operating a network of IPTV platforms in China. Read more on SportBusiness (English) and Ecosports (Chinese)

Mailman Take: Following a strong ending to 2020, Migu is continuing its rights spree with another football property. Broadcasters in the past have bet big on large amounts of content, only to end up bankrupt. The difference with Migu is they’re state-owned, making it highly likely they'll fall into financial difficulties.

3. Houston Rockets Return to Tencent This return comes 15 months after being removed from all broadcasts in China. Tencent Sports, exclusive rights holders of the NBA in China, showed the Houston Rockets - Los Angeles Lakers on Monday morning, China time. Read more on SCMP (English) and Netease (Chinese)

4. Jeremy Lin Joins the Warriors

The Warriors will assign the 32-year-old guard to their G League affiliate in Santa Cruz. Golden State has long been linked to a possible reunion with Lin, who spent nine seasons with eight different NBA teams before playing the 2019-20 season in the Chinese Basketball Association with the Beijing Ducks. Read more on NBC (English) and Sohu (Chinese)

5. PGA Tour China Season Cancelled The cancellation comes due to the on-going pandemic and the "uncertainty of the situation in Asia at this time". The Tour released schedules for the Mackenzie Tour in Canada, which did not stage a single event in 2020, and the PGA Tour Latinoamerica after it resumed last month following an eight-month break. Read more on Sky Sports (English) and Sina (Chinese) 6. 2021 Chinese Grand Prix Cancelled The Chinese Grand Prix has become the second 2021 Formula 1 race to be cancelled, following the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, which will move to November. The Chinese Grand Prix was scheduled for April 10 as the third race on the calendar. The 2020 Chinese Grand Prix was one of 12 races cancelled due to the pandemic. The chances of China hosting a race depend on other countries dropping out. Read more on SportsPro (English) and People (Chinese) 7. Adidas Launches Dedicated CNY Line The special series of European football club clothing for Chinese New Year features clubs such as Manchester United, Arsenal, Real Madrid, Juventus, and Bayern Munich. The branded outfits have oriental designs. Read more on SportBusiness (English) and Sports Money (Chinese)

Esports Bilibili Esports Raises RMB 180M in Initial Round of Funding Bilibili has built a sustainable esports ecosystem with several businesses spanning from livestreaming, esports competition operations, esports talents brokers, and event organisation. In August 2020, the company secured broadcasting rights for the League of Legends World Championship, the Mid-Season Invitational tournament, and the All-Star event. Read more on Pandaily (English) and Sina (Chinese)

Other News

China to Regulate Tech Giants There will be an increase in legislation to regulate China’s tech giants and ensure the supporting legal system is on track with the country’s digital economy for the next five years. Areas set for regulation will focus on internet finance, artificial intelligence and big data as part of the Communist Party’s detailed blueprint to overhaul the country’s legal system. Read more on SCMP (English) and Sohu (Chinese) Xiaomi Added to US Blacklist The company plunged 11% after the Trump Administration blacklisted China’s second most popular smartphone maker, as well as 10 other companies, in an effort to control the country’s technology sector. Xiaomi, which battles with Huawei for the title of China’ top mobile device brand, also makes electric scooters, earphones and smart rice cookers. Read more on Yahoo! (English) and Huanqiu (Chinese)

From The Top

Leo Lin, Co-CEO of TJ Sports, a Joint Venture established between Tencent & Riot Games.

1. How would you summarise the year esports had in China in 2020, what were the highs, lows, and biggest learnings?

It's been challenging but also prospering. The esports industry in China was facing inevitable impact from the global pandemic at the beginning of 2020. Because of the very special digital characteristics of esports, the LPL managed to return to online games in March. Following the successful recovery of LPL, we were able to organize the 2020 League of Legends World Championship in Shanghai, bringing 22 international teams and staff into China. I'd say this is the key success for 2020.

Speaking of lows, it's indeed a pity that due to the global pandemic, we were not able to bring a lot of audiences to the offline event last year. Though we managed to allow a live audience for the 2020 Worlds Final and Demacia Championship, LPL All-Star, the offline match experience was still limited for a large part of our fanbase. However, we wanted to enhance the viewing experience by utilizing top technology to incorporate live streaming, such as Extended Reality.

2. It was Shanghai last year, Shenzhen this year. What new and different aspects can we expect to see at this year's Worlds?

First of all, Shenzhen will be the city to host the final of the 2021 World Championship. We hope that there will be multiple cities to help organize the 2021 World Championship in China this year. Multi-City would always be creating very special experiences in sports events, where you can feel the different culture for different cities, and meet passionate esports fans from different places.

Riot Games always consider innovative presentations in the opening ceremony for each year's grand final of the World Championship. As mentioned, we adopted XR technology in 2020 and please tune in for the 2021 Grand Final to see how we plan to improve the show quality year by year.

Also, we'd like to explore the possibility of inviting fans to the event to enjoy the offline atmosphere. Last year we managed to have a live audience for the Final, and this year we will definitely hope there will be more games that allow live audiences.

3. Other than Shenzhen, which other cities will you be touring in, and what can fans expect to see as part of these tours?

We are in discussions with local governments to determine the other cities to potentially host the Worlds 2021. We would like to invite the fans back to the venue for an offline event and are actively discussing the solution and preparation protocol to align with local regulations to protect players, staff and fans.

4. With China ahead of most other countries in terms of recovery from COVID-19, local & international brands will be eyeing the Worlds as a pivotal activation period with consumers. How does Riot Games China work with these brands to ensure they're getting maximum exposure and engagement?

First of all, I'd like to thank all our brand partners for standing with LPL in a very special year. The LPL temporarily postponed the matches in February and thus we launched various series of content such as Historical Highlights and Classic Games to continue our digital exposure on social media for fans to consume. Since the LPL recovered through online games in March last year, we were able to maintain the daily operation of the LPL and thus protected our brand values.

Brand partners' logos and advertisements will be displayed in the streaming and incorporated with different periods of the game during our streaming. The brand is thus connected with esports throughout different periods of the game and delivers a stronger brand image to the audience. The unique style of brand inception is highly accepted by the audience.

We were restricted in offline events and it was difficult to execute offline activation for our brand partners, so the LPL produced more digital content, which is in huge demand by the community, as compensation to our brand partners to ensure their brand exposure would be guaranteed.

In 2021, the LPL will have 15 brand partners of different genres, from sportswear to car brands. We are keen to operate a long-term, consistent esports league to ensure the everlasting brand exposure for our brand partners.

5. A global esports hub was announced recently, set to open in 2023 in Shanghai. How significant will this be for Shanghai and China in terms of the country's bid to be the global esports capital of the world?

The esports development in Shanghai is indeed the most exciting topic to talk about nowadays. The establishment of a new venue for EDG certainly marks an important footprint on home-and-away policy that the LPL propose for the league.

After the successful organization of the Worlds in 2020, the world has noticed how esports develops in Shanghai, how esports is truly being recognized by the city. The Shanghai Government is constantly supporting the industry development for esports and providing supportive policies for esports organisations, companies, venues, clubs, streaming platforms, event organisers, and events.

Despite esports teams, there are many esports media, production, and service companies that are founded throughout these years in Shanghai. Since esports was developed back in the 2000s, there were a lot of esports tournaments organized in Shanghai. The esports ecosystem was therefore built and prospered in Shanghai with historical reasons and the support from the Government.


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