• Denis Green

China Sports Business Weekly | 17th September



Hello Industry Friends, here are the very latest news and insights from the past week in China.


📰 Headlines: US Open delivers 14-day live stream, Emma Raducanu sets the trend, Barcelona & iQiyi Sports get digital, WTA Finals move from Shenzhen, CSL faces changes, Evergrande’s crisis worsens.


🗣 ️In this week’s From The Top, Stephanie Hsiao, Marketing Director, NFL China, and Roy Jia, Director of Media & Business Development, NFL China, spoke about NFL's biggest wins in the past 12 months in China, the challenges, new digital strategies, and growing the grassroots game.

🗞️ Top Industry News US Open Live Stream Show Unites Tennis Community The first-ever Grand Slam tournament to produce an hour-long live stream show every day throughout the 14-day showpiece event racked up 40M views. Made specifically for China, in China, the influencer-hosted show was streamed on Weibo, while short clips were available on Douyin. Read more on SportsPro (English) and Sina (Chinese) 💡 Mailman Take: Live stream studio shows are not new to China, however, delivering quality and consistency for 14 days in a row has set the live stream bar even higher. Advantage US Open.


Emma Raducanu Trends in China, Thanks Fans in Mandarin The newly-crowned US Open champion, whose mother is from Shenyang, China, has become a major hit with Chinese fans. Delivering a message to her Chinese fans in Mandarin, Raducanu trended number 6 on Weibo’s Hot Topics list and landed coverage in all the country’s top media outlets. Read more on PRWeek (English) and Sohu (Chinese) 💡 Mailman Take: It’s great to see Emma Raducanu embracing her Chinese heritage, which will undoubtedly propel her to stardom in China. This is just the beginning, as local fans and brands queue up for her sought-after signature.

Barcelona Partners with iQiyi Sports on Digital Membership Expanding on an existing relationship with LaLiga broadcaster iQiyi Sports, the latest collaboration sees a program offer the club’s fans in China exclusives and the capability to watch all Barcelona LaLiga games this season. The iBarça Membership also delivers Barça TV+ content, available in Mandarin. Read more on FC Barcelona (English) and Beijing Youth (Chinese)


WTA Finals Moved from Shenzhen to Guadalajara The Women’s Tennis Association announced that the Mexican city of Guadalajara will host the 2021 WTA Finals, with the event unable to take place in Shenzhen this year. Shenzhen signed a 10-year hosting deal with the WTA back in January 2018. Read more on SportBusiness (English) and Beijing Youth (Chinese) 💡 Mailman Take: This would have been a big opportunity for Chinese fans to see Raducanu live in action following her success at the US Open. The whole country is hoping the event returns to Shenzhen next year.


​​China Eyes CSL Changes as Guangzhou FC Faces Scrutiny Chinese Super League reform is on the table as another top table side, Guangzhou FC, faces financial collapse. The club is majority-owned by property developer China Evergrande Group, which is in the midst of a major debt crisis with liabilities of $300B. Read more on SportBusiness (English) and Sohu (Chinese)


Xi Jinping Declares the 14th National Games Open in Xi'an A firm promoter of national fitness and a keen sports fan himself, Xi has advocated sports as an important means for improving people's health. Xi attended the opening ceremony of China’s 14th National Games and announced the start of the event, which will run until Sept 27 in Xi'an, the capital of Shaanxi province. Read more on CCTV (English) and CCTV.com (Chinese) Wu Lei: More Chinese Players Need European Experience The striker has called on more of his national teammates to move to Europe to help the country close the gap on Asia's leading national teams. Read more on Reuters (English) and Beijing Evening News (Chinese) Bilibili Lands Liga ACB Rights A stranger to traditional sports rights, Bilibli has made a move, albeit a small one, by acquiring live and on-demand rights to Liga ACB, Spain’s top basketball league. Chinese fans will be able to watch more than 330 games for free. Read more on SportBusiness (English)

🎮 Esports


WUCG x MLB Esports League Spring Finals Held in Shenzhen

The two-day event integrated esports, a baseball experience, and various other entertainment activities aimed at younger age groups. MLB is translating its century-old sports DNA into a new era for youth, delivering baseball culture as a way of life to new generations. Read more on Sohu (Chinese)


Shanghai to Lecture Video Game Companies

More than 20 video games companies based in Shanghai met with city authorities as the government’s scrutiny of the industry continues. The meeting was called by multiple municipal departments, including the Shanghai communist propaganda unit, the local branch of the cybersecurity administration. Read more on SCMP (English) and The Paper (Chinese)

🤔 Opinion


Is Tennis Champion Emma Raducanu Luxury’s Latest Saviour in China?

Raducanu’s work ethic and dedication to her sport have seen her rise in the ATP Rankings from 345th earlier this year to an impressive 23rd today. As such, this makes her an intriguing role model for global luxury brands seeking to attract fans in China, which is enjoying a newly found focus on sports as a healthier alternative to the likes of stationery online gaming. Read more on Jing Daily (English)

🗞️ Other News


China Evergrande's Crisis Deepens

Major banks were notified that Evergrande Group won't be able to pay upcoming loan interest, highlighting the growing impact of the property developer's liquidity crisis. The troubles have already sparked social anger among investors and homebuyers and raised risks for China's financial system. Read more on Reuters (English) and Sohu (Chinese)

📢 From The Top 🗣 Stephanie Hsiao, Marketing Director, NFL China and Roy Jia, Director of Media & Business Development, NFL China

1. From an online & offline perspective, what were the NFL's biggest wins in the past 12 months in China?

Last season, fans were able to watch all 256 games of the regular season for the first time in China, with the option to watch in English or Chinese language via our partner Tencent. We launched our official NFL Shop on Tmall with our global ecommerce partner, Fanatics, providing our fans in China with access to the widest selection of NFL products in one place.


To complement NFL Shop on Tmall, we plan to grow our retail presence with brick-and-mortar NFL stores in market. Additionally, we were lucky to be able to end the season on a high note by supporting a number of Super Bowl watch parties around the country, continuing to build and bring together the NFL fan community physically – China was the only international NFL market that was able to do so.

2. Any notable challenges?


Given the challenges presented by the global pandemic that impacted all live sports and entertainment events, we feel fortunate that we were able to execute a complete season from Kickoff to Super Bowl. Our most notable challenge, as with many of our sports cohorts, was finding ways to continue engaging our local fan base despite even more limited access to players due to pandemic safety protocols.


With the support of our home office and several active Clubs who stayed committed to connecting with their Chinese fan base in creative digital ways, we were able to deliver through more local fan-focused campaigns resulting in double-digit increases across our social following and Club social engagement.

3. What can we expect new, digitally, from the NFL as we head into a new season?


We’re excited to expand our presence on more social video platforms including Douyin, Kuaishou and Bilibili, where our fans live. This includes not just our official NFL league accounts but also our clubs and select athletes.


At the same time, we are developing increased content options to better serve and engage fans, including giving fans more chances to connect and learn about who NFL players are both on and off-field; and compelling collaborations with local content creators to provide fans with more ways to experience and enjoy the game.


4. The NFL has been growing its grassroots and flag football presence in China in recent years. What have been the results and biggest learnings? Anything new that the NFL plans on doing in this area moving forward?


We have been supporting grassroots football development in middle schools and universities since 2003. Many football coaches today were once players in our middle school NFL Appleseed Coaching programs. We’ve learned that we must continue to develop a football “participation pyramid” that charts a clear course from youth to elite players. Growing football participation at the grassroots level is integral to the growth of the NFL in China.

We will continue to support local schools and governments under the new 5-Year national fitness goal and latest education policy, kicking off this year with our revamped NFL Flag program. Our NFL Flag-in-Schools program - launched earlier this summer - will equip PE teachers with the necessary tools to teach flag football as part of their PE classes.


We are in the process of building a new NFL Flag tournament model that will empower local football organisations and allow for increased participation in flag football competitions in their home city. To support these programs, we are working with local football federations like the Shanghai Rugby and Football Association (SRFA) to establish standards and a certification program for coaching and officiating. The response thus far has been very positive, with the number of applicants exceeding our initial expectations.

We’re aware of the impact that a Chinese player in the NFL would have and are actively working to establish a pipeline for recruiting and developing local talent. As the NFL International Player Pathway program continues to grow globally, this season we will launch an open call for local talent, offering opportunities for China’s top athletes to play at a higher level.

Our future is dependent on engaging the next generation of fans – increasing local participation, elevating local heroes and making both the sport and us as a league more locally relevant.

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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 China, Southeast Asia, Europe, and the US, we specialise in digital strategy, transformation, social media, content production and eCommerce. Mailman is part of 160/90, an Endeavor company. Learn more about our story here.

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