• Denis Green

China Sports Business Weekly | 17th July

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


Here’s what’s been making the headlines this week: The NHL launch China-specific fan leaders program, Tottenham Hotspur the first EPL club to livestream studio show on WeChat, Kuaishou partner with Formula E, education company sponsor Beijing 2022, Wanda-Infront in contention for Serie A investment, PP Sports announce all CSL games free-to-air, the five trends shaping esports in China, and plenty more.

In this week’s From The Top, we spoke with Rowan Simons, Chairman of China ClubFootball FC, about the wide-reaching value of grassroots football clubs & academies, the impact of the border ban for foreigners, sponsorship budget cuts, the potential impact of a second wave, and how China has returned to sport.

Top Industry News 1) NHL Launches China Fan Leaders Program The National Hockey League (NHL), the world’s premier hockey league based in North America, has officially launched an exclusive Fan Leaders Program in China to further its commitment to the market while focusing on the sport at all levels. The NHL will recruit Fan Leaders who will act as content creators and ambassadors for the league as it continues to focus on providing more original and entertaining content to its fans in China. Read more on NHL Weibo (Chinese)

2) Tottenham Hotspur First EPL Club to Livestream on WeChat with Studio Show The studio show was broadcasted across four Chinese platforms, including Yizhibo, Douyin, Weibo and WeChat. The Chinese language studio show was produced ahead of the North London derby last Sunday night to share the history around this fixture and include fan engagement activities. The show reached 1.4M total views across all platforms. Read more on Ecosports (Chinese)

3) Kuaishou Becomes Exclusive Short-Form Video Partner of Formula E The FIA ​​Formula E (FE) Championship’s official strategic cooperation with Kuaishou makes it the first top international competition to cooperate with Kuaishou. In turn, Kuaishou will become FE's main short video content partner, exclusive live short video partner and official promotion partner. Kuaishou is making a noticeable impact in China and we expect to see more international sports properties on the platform soon. Read more on SportBusiness (English) and Lanxiong Sports (Chinese) 4) Yuanfudao Online Education Official Sponsor of Beijing 2022 Beijing 2022 confirmed the education company, backed by Chinese conglomerate Tencent, had become the latest to join its portfolio of sponsors. Yuanfudao, which offers online courses and homework plans to students, becomes the 31st sponsor of the 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics. Read more on Inside the Games (English) and Xinhua (Chinese) 5) Wanda-Infront to Contend for Serie A Investment Wanda Sports Group and its agency Infront is reportedly among seven potential investment offers for Lega Serie A, governing body of the top division of Italian club football. Infront has worked as the league’s media-rights adviser since 2008. Read more on SportBusiness (English) and Jiemian (Chinese) 6) PP Sports Makes All CSL Games Free-To-Air on Mobile The exclusive digital media rights holder of the Chinese Super League (CSL) in China will make all 180 matches available for free on mobile as a gesture of goodwill to football fans across the country and as a means to increase viewership. Read more on people.com (Chinese) In Other News Tencent Launches New Online Shopping Feature in WeChat The new feature will help merchants build virtual shops on WeChat, putting it in direct competition for online shoppers with the country’s major online shopping giants Alibaba and JD.com. Businesses and merchants can sign up for a test of the ecommerce product, known as WeChat Minishop. Read more on CNBC (English) and Sina (Chinese) China’s Economy Growing Again The growth comes after the worst three-month period in decades, providing hope for the global post-coronavirus recovery. The start of the recovery follows a 6.8% slump in the first quarter of the year, the biggest since quarterly GDP records began. China’s economy grew 3.2% in the April-to-June period compared a year ago.  Read more on CNN (English) and Xinhua (Chinese Curtains Open on Chinese Cinemas China will begin reopening cinemas in “low-risk regions” from July 20, ending nearly six months of closures that left thousands of theatres bankrupt. Attendance of each screening will be capped at 30% and the overall number of screenings per venue must be reduced to half. Furthermore, each film screening may not exceed two hours in length. Read more on Variety (English) and Xinhua (Chinese) Esports News Blog: Five Trends Shaping the Chinese Esports Landscape Tom Elsden, Business Director at Mailman, argues that now is the time to invest in the Chinese esports market and focuses on five key reasons why esports and China are a good fit. They include: The national sport: centrally promoted and encouraged; Money reaching new areas; Uniquely linked to China’s culture and customs; Driven by tech empires; Long-term upside from the COVID-19 lockdown. Read the Blog on SportsPro (English) Honor of Kings World Champion Cup Holds $4.6M Prize Tencent announced its 2020 Honor of Kings World Champion Cup will have a $4.6M prize pool. The company will provide $2.3M as base prize money, while the remaining $2.3M to come from sales of an in-game skin of Honor of Kings’ character Lixin. Read more on Esports Observer (English) and Tencent (Chinese) From The Top Rowan Simons, Chairman of China ClubFootball FC 1. As China is in the recovery stage, how have grassroots football clubs and academies been affected at all levels and how much does this affect Xi Jinping's 50-point plan? The impact of the pandemic has been very serious for grassroots clubs with the closure of schools resulting in the cancellation of all extra-curricular activities for kids. As a contact team sport, football has been hit as hard as any and the lack of revenues during the first half of the year means that some clubs will not have survived. If things return to normal soon, and it is still a big ‘if’, there should not be any long-term impact. Indeed, there is a real hope that more people will turn to healthy exercise as one of the best ways to protect against illness and choose team sports for the obvious social benefits. 2. A large number of foreign coaches employed in China can't return yet. What have been solutions to this and has China attempted to ease the situation or made it more difficult? This is a big issue for ClubFootball as our coaching teams are led by experienced professionals from Europe. As the pandemic struck during the Chinese New Year break, many coaches were overseas and have not been able to return. There is not really a good solution in the short term as there is still a shortage of Chinese coaches with the right qualifications. The same issues are being faced by all companies that employ foreign nationals and we are in regular contact with the relevant authorities to lobby for permission for our coaches to return. However, decisions on visas are being taken at higher levels, so I think the sports authorities are limited in what they can do. It is interesting to note that some high-profile coaches, such as Rafa Benitez, have been able to return already, while others have not. It would be good to see some consistency through the line. 3. Marketing budgets for clubs, teams, leagues and so on will have been cut and sponsors are reluctant to invest. What are the back-up plans and how can they adapt to the current situation? It is very hard to carry out marketing when you are not allowed to actually deliver the services. During this time, our focus is on strengthening relationships with existing customers. In addition to online training videos such as our “Skills in Small Places” series, we have dramatically increased the volume of “sports culture” content on our social media channels. This keeps people engaged with the game and reminds them that we will be back as soon as practicable. As for sponsorship, many traditional sponsors are suffering themselves and budgets have been affected. That said, I think there will be a rebound when the crisis passes and so will offer a large opportunity for corporations to show their commitment to their communities, and their own workforces, by supporting healthy sports activities. 4. A second wave is on everyone's mind. Is this still restricting businesses from fully operating, and what are the contingencies you're making in case a second wave hits? In Beijing, there was a well-reported outbreak in a market a few weeks ago and this led to the closing of schools and another lockdown in some parts of the city. It seems that localised outbreaks are the new concern, so having operations in multiple locations could be key in maintaining at least some services. For example, ClubFootball is making use of locations outside Beijing to run Summer Camps for kids who are not under lockdown and we are expanding our operations in other cities. 5. How do you think China has handled the return to sport for the CSL and CBA, and when are we likely to see an international sporting event in China again? There are now several pro leagues back in operation around the world and so China has been able to learn from those experiences. In terms of the CSL, I think the new format seems sensible in creating a so-called “bubble” to keep players and officials safe and there is no doubt the return to action will be welcomed by fans. For international events, the main issue at the moment is visas, or the lack of them. Unless and until this policy is reversed and international travel to China returns to normal, it is hard to see how any global events can be held here. As noted, this policy is set at much higher levels and sports events will have to take a back seat until the situation improves, not just in China but across the world.

Top 10 This week we look at the most-followed Football Players on Weibo. 

  1. Cristiano Ronaldo - 7M

  2. Anthony Martial - 6.6M

  3. David Beckham - 6.6M

  4. Lionel Messi - 6.6M

  5. Thomas Mueller - 6.2M

  6. Neymar Jr. - 6.1M

  7. Radamel Falcao - 5.8M

  8. Samuel Umtiti - 5.7M

  9. Paul Pogba - 4.6M

  10. Sergio Aguero - 4.6M

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