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  • Writer's pictureDenis Green

China Sports Business Weekly | 15th May

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

In the news this week: LaLiga announces Joint Venture, CCTV reaffirms no comeback yet for NBA, UFC launches Tmall store, CSL on the brink of return, Yao Ming offers 3 options for CBA, NBA China appoints new CEO, Bayern & Douyin partner up, CSL’s Tianjin Tianhai folds, plus the best creatives, esports, and Top 10. 

In this week’s From The Top, we spoke with Benjamin Wahl, Head of China for Borussia Dortmund. Benjamin spoke about the Bundesliga’s impending return, how the club plans to celebrate live football again, having to adjust strategy during COVID-19, and what will be different digitally now football is back.

Top Industry News

1) LaLiga Signs Joint Venture with Super Sports Media & Mediapro Agency The three parties will work closely with the aim to provide more resources and grow the commercial activity in China for the Spanish league. The agreement establishes the Spanish Football Commercial & Marketing Company (SFCM) for an initial 15 years. Read more on LaLiga (English) and Ecosports (Chinese)

2) CCTV Keeps Door Closed on NBA Coverage

China Central Television (CCTV) will continue not to show NBA games in the country, for now. The Global Times stated on its Twitter page: "China Central Television refutes rumours that it would restore streaming NBA games, reiterating its consistent stance on national sovereignty". Read more on NYT (English) and CCTV (Chinese) 

Mailman Take: This is a case of when, not if, for NBA coverage to reappear on China’s only nationwide dedicated sports channel. For most international sports properties, air time on CCTV is seen as the holy grail, reaching a potential audience in the hundreds of millions. But this won’t happen quickly. The NBA understands it takes patience, and it’s that patience that has helped elevate the league over the decades to become the most followed international sports property in China. 

3) UFC Launches Ecommerce on Alibaba’s Tmall 

On the same day as UFC 249, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) expanded its presence in China with the launch of an official Tmall store. Over 90% of products made available are exclusive to the China market. Read more on SCMP (English) and Forbes (Chinese)

Mailman Take: Fashion and style are noticeably different in China compared to the West, making it necessary to get feedback from local fans on product design & style before launching. Ecommerce is one of the major areas for an international sports organisation to drive revenue in China, but simply launching a store is not enough. The UFC has successfully created new products for this market, whilst also building out its strategy for this channel, combining commerce and content. 

4) Chinese Super League Set for June Action

The Chinese Football Association (CFA) has laid out a blueprint for the league to finally return. CFA president Chen Xuyuan told CCTV: “All matches will be played behind closed doors for the time being. But fans will be allowed to come into the stadium in a gradual manner”. Wild East Football explains the plan clearly. Read more on SportBusiness (English) and Beijing Youth Daily (Chinese) 

5) Yao Ming’s Three Options for the CBA

The current president of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) has provided three alternatives for resuming the season that has been on hold since February 1. He said the league may play the full schedule; play a shortened season with games removed; or end the regular season and go straight to the playoffs based on current rankings. Read more on Yahoo! (English) and China Daily (Chinese)

6) NBA China Announces Michael Ma as CEO

The new NBA China CEO previously spent almost 14 years working at the NBA and will take up his new post on June 1 in Beijing. The NBA said Ma will fully manage the league’s basketball development and business development in China, and will be responsible for further enhancing the popularity of basketball and the NBA. Read more on SportBusiness (English) and Lanxiong Sports (Chinese)

7) Bayern Scores with Douyin Partnership The Bundesliga champion has become the first international football club to partner with the short-form video platform. The club also produces a weekly Douyin interactive livestream with the aim of bringing its China fans closer to the club. Read more on FC Bayern in English & Chinese

8) CSL Side Tianjin Tianhai Folds 

The Chinese Super League (CSL) club finished second bottom of the CSL last year, and has declared bankruptcy and folded, having struggled since the arrest and imprisonment of their former owner Shu Yuhui. Shenzhen FC, who were relegated last season, will replace Tianhai in the CSL for the 2020 season. Read more on The Guardian (English) and Xinhuanet (Chinese)

9) Y11 Sports Buys Majority Stake in Ospreys

The Hong Kong-based sports marketing group acquired a 75% stake in Welsh rugby team Ospreys as part of a multi-million-pound deal. Read more on Reuters (English) Best of the Rest Game Changers Available on Youku The popular documentary that focuses on the way high-level vegan and vegetarian athletes have benefited by eating a plant-based diet, is now available on digital streaming platform Youku. Co-producer & former UFC star James Wilks stated that China was on their mind from the very beginning. Read more on SCMP English and Baijiahao (Chinese)

Creative of the Week Formula 1 History Graphic A brief history of Formula 1 is portrayed in a long-term creative graphic highlighting some of the most memorable moments and greatest drivers. Esports News

LoL World Championship to Take Place in Shanghai in October Despite rumours the showpiece event wouldn’t take place this year due to COVID-19, the popular League of Legends World Championship 2020 will not be delayed or cancelled and will kick off in Shanghai’s Pudong district this October. Esports festival ChinaJoy will also take place from July 31 to August 3. Read more on Esports Observer (English) and Sina (Chinese)

Mailman Take: The esports industry and its sponsors breathe a huge sigh of relief as the LoL World Championship traffic light switches from amber to green. Another positive sign the government is prepared to allow major events to return in what will hopefully be an action-packed and much-needed Q3 & 4 of 2020.

From The Top

Benjamin Wahl, Head of China for Borussia Dortmund

1. The Bundesliga returns. How happy are you?

Since March, the Bundesliga has been on hold, which is a long time for all our passionate fans. Personally, as a football fan, I can’t wait to see the Bundesliga continue. We as a club worked intensively over the past weeks together with the DFL on the strategy paper to be prepared for the resumption of the competition. The 51-page thick document covers major topics such as game-day handling (dividing the stadium into 3 zones; max 300 ppl.) + hygiene and sanitary standards (distance, hand wash, groups of people) + a narrow-netted concept for tests and action plans to narrow down potential infection chains. 

Since the first of March, regular COVID-19 tests have been performed by all clubs and since week one the clubs quarantined themselves to get prepared for the re-start of the league. We all hope this concept could be a reference for other leagues.

2. What does the club have planned this weekend in China?

Life is almost back to normal in China - for many weeks Restaurants, Parks, Movie Theatres and Bars have opened again - We will watch the game together with our closest partners, friends and fans in Shanghai. But we also welcome fans from other clubs who miss the sport, to have a wonderful football night with us


3. What’s been the most difficult aspect of the last few months with no live sport?

Our goal was to keep engaged with our great fanbase in China. We usually do fan parties all over the country on game days which were on hold for a while. Therefore we established the very first BVB Online Festival. Spending an evening together with our fans, sharing fan & fanclub stories, doing juggling competitions, playing FIFA online tournaments with the fans, sharing inside documentaries of BVB and doing song contests. 

The challenge is to keep the content exciting and special. We want to be touchable/tangible, be close to our fans. So we want to focus on interaction rather than on content consumption. The setup of those concepts and new formats is each time a new challenging task.

4. Will it be back to as it was before on digital, or will you look to change things based on learnings from the previous months?

We definitely discovered some new formats during those times. The virtual Stadium tour, the BVB podcast, new documentaries like the “09 Championship with Jürgen Klopp” and spending online gatherings with the fanclubs to keep in touch are great formats.

Overall and before drifting too far into the digital world: We can’t wait to have the passionate and intense football feeling of Borussia Dortmund back. This passion and dedication are the soul of our club and digitally we try everything to spread this love for the game to our fans worldwide.

5. What have been 3 key learnings about digital in China during the COVID-19 period?

Focus on one media platform for live streaming. Our partner PP Sports and the DFL supported us greatly for the above mentioned online activities in China. Not doing content with the intention to produce something. Doing it because it’s relevant and to interact with our fans.

And overall it might be good timing to reflect the current status of football. About the values of the sport. Being so successful as the football industry indeed brings some challenges. Who stops in a period of success after success? Reaching new records year after year: More spectators in the stadiums, higher reach globally for the league, higher revenue,….and that development over a decade. It’s a good sign that the DFL is working together with the clubs on a concept paper for the future of football.

Top 10

This week we look at the most followed current UFC athletes on Weibo

1. Zhang Weili -  1.2M

2. Li Jingliang -  1.1M

4. Song Yadong -  68K

5. Song Kenan -  37K

7. Yan Xiaonan - 33K

8. Su Mudaerji - 17K

10. Wu Yanan - 4K


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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 the globe we specialise in digital strategy, transformation, social media, content production and eCommerce. Learn more about our story here

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