• Denis Green

China Sports Business Weekly | 19th July

Here are the top China sports business news stories you need to know from this week, and my From the Top interview with Celine Shao, Director of Marketing & Communications at MLB China, where has talked about MLB’s strategy in China, its recently announced video game tournaments, and official development centers. 


MLB Growing in China with Esports Major League Baseball (MLB) will host video game tournaments across the Chinese cities of Chongqing, Chengdu, Xi’an, Beijing, Hangzhou, and Shanghai this year. The competition will run on their licensed console game “MLB The Show” for three months, and MLB will invite eight top Chinese esports teams to form the league. Read more on Sport Business (English) and Sina Sports (Chinese)


Mailman Take: Despite opening a China office back in 2007, MLB China has stayed relatively dormant with regard to consumer marketing. It’s only been over the last few years that they’ve broadened their marketing strategy while seeing real Chinese player successes from their development centers across the country. MLB has signed 7 players from the centers to professional clubs in the US, and now they’re launching an esports league. With a lack of recreational facilities to play baseball, delivering esports competitions is a good way to connect the younger generation with the sport and grow MLB’s fan base in China. 


Alex Ovechkin to Serve as NHL Ambassador in China The National Hockey League (NHL) announced that Washington Capitals Captain and Stanley Cup champion Alexander Ovechkin will visit China the week of August 4th serving as an international ambassador for the League. Ovechkin’s trip to Beijing will include youth hockey clinics, a media tour, and business development meetings. Read more on Washington Post (English)


Mailman Take: The NHL is bringing one their greatest and most influential players for his first visit to China. With the absence of the China Games, the league is committed to giving China a first-hand look at a top-tier NHL player this offseason. Chinese hockey fans will be able to follow Ovi’s China tour on social media and look forward to appearances in the country’s capital.


OPPO to Quit Indian Cricket Sponsorship The Chinese smartphone brand will end its main sponsor title of India’s national cricket team next year, according to reports. Inside Sport announced the smartphone brand will offload the partnership to a new sponsor. Oppo signed a five-year deal as India’s lead partner in 2017, for a reported fee of $157m. Read more on Inside Sport (English) and Lanxiong Sports (Chinese)


Mailman Take: Oppo has had quite a year so far signing partnerships with two of the four tennis Grand Slams, as it appears to be targeting different sports to tap into new consumer bases. During a remarkable sporting Sunday in the UK last week, Oppo could be seen prominently during the 2019 Cricket World Cup final, and less prominently but to a wider audience, at the Wimbledon tennis men’s final. Sport offers a global language for communicating with consumers, and this tie-up allowed Oppo to utilise the 2-week spectacle and reach a new demographic of sports fans. 


Hisense Becomes Inter Milan Asia Summer Tour Partner The Chinese multinational major appliance and electronics manufacturer will have pitchside branding and pop-up stores on match-day. Hisense will also run promotional programs during the tour offering its consumers discounts and other benefits. Read more on Huangqiu (Chinese).  


Mailman Take: Another China sponsorship for Inter Milan. Looking forward to next week’s announcement...


In Other News


Wolves’ Alternative China Trip The Premier League club touched down in Shanghai and launched its away kit at the new Shanghai Wolves megastore. Further marketing activities included a Fashion Night, Tsingtao Beer Festival, and a week-long jersey exhibition in Shanghai. With Fosun as owner, Adidas new kit supplier and a Chinese betting company as jersey sponsor, Wolves have established a strong setup. Having Fosun as owner certainly has its advantages when the club comes to town. A nice touch from the club was a Fan Guide for travelling supporters. 


Esports News


Tencent-backed DouYu IPOs China’s largest live-streaming platform sold $775 million in stock at a $3.73 billion valuation after pricing its U.S. initial public offering (IPO) at the bottom of an indicative range. DouYu has exclusive streaming rights to 29 major tournaments in China, including League of Legends, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and DOTA2, according to its IPO filing. Read more on Reuters (English) and Sohu (Chinese)


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From the Top

This week I spoke to Celine Shao, Director of Marketing & Communications at MLB China, where has talked about MLB’s strategy in China, its recently announced video game tournaments, and official development centers.


1. MLB has been making big moves in China recently, what're the key reasons for the increased emphasis for MLB in China? It’s always important for us to listen to what the market has to say. In 2007, we entered the Chinese market and established our office in Beijing. In the past 12 years, our focus has been largely on youth programs and more fundamental work to develop the market: Our MLB PlayBall! youth program has reached more than 1.2 million elementary school kids and their families; MLB Baseball Park roadshow has set foot in more than 40 Chinese cities, attracting over 20 million participants. Now we decide to move on to the next level in response to the growing appetite for baseball from Chinese fans by creating more fan engagement opportunities, especially for the younger generations.


2. MLB recently announced China video game tournaments. Why launch this year and what does MLB hope to achieve from this? Launching the video game tournaments is part of our many initiatives to create more touchpoints for our fans in China. Esports has experienced phenomenal growth in recent years. More importantly, the esports sector continues to attract new fans. Globally, the number reached 450 million in 2018 and is expected to eclipse 1 billion by 2021. By incorporating the video game tournaments with our baseball-themed roadshow MLB Experience, it provides our fans with a unique experience and presents a great opportunity for us to engage with fans in China. 3. The development centers have been in operation for many years and you're now seeing the project bear fruit with players signed up by US teams - how pleasing is this and what more can expect to see in the next 1-2 years? We now have 3 development centers in Nanjing, Changzhou, and Wuxi. In the past decade, 7 graduates have been signed by MLB teams. We all know the power of a local superstar, and by sending young Chinese prospects to play in the Minor League and continue their pursuit of the Major League, we create a continuous storyline which our local fans can relate to. In the next few years, we hope that we’ll be able to see the first Major Leaguer from Mainland China and more Chinese people to follow, play and consume baseball.


4. What other changes in strategy and new projects are you currently working on? We’ve been embracing pop culture & social media to engage with our fans in China. By working with top influencers such as hip-hop dancers, pop singers, and incorporate baseball elements with pop culture, we establish a channel for MLB to communicate with the younger generation, with the language they relate to, and with the platform they are familiar with. Last year, we brought Chinese Pop star Roy Wang from TFBoys to throw the ceremonial first pitch at Citi Field. This year’s All-Star Week in Cleveland, we brought pop star Kwin to perform at PLAY BALL PARK stage and launched collaboration products with pop singer JJ Lin and New Era. These all created great buzz among baseball fans and non-baseball fans alike.

Besides, we also initiated MLB Perfect Pitch, a baseball-themed dance challenge with China’s top hip-hop dancer Viho on Douyin and Weibo, lots of people participated and great content was generated. This event will also be part of our baseball-themed roadshow MLB Experience, which will kick off this weekend in Chongqing, and travel to 7 cities through July to October, bringing a fun & interactive experience to our fans. -- Now you can subscribe to our China Sports Business Weekly brief and have it delivered directly to you, wherever you are. 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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