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  • Writer's pictureDenis Green

China Sports Business Weekly | 20th March

As COVID-19 continues to impact lives around the world, Mailman sends its thoughts and best wishes to all those affected during these tough times. It’s important as a community we continue to stay together and strong.

In this week’s edition, BVB produces the first-ever ‘virtual online fan party’ in China, Steve Nash becomes the latest star on MORE Sports’ roster, PP Sports & European football clubs auction jerseys, FIFA looks at alternative Club World Cup 2021 dates, the CSL hints at April start, and Wanda completes $240m loan.

We spoke with Bill Sanders, SVP of Talent & Partnerships at AIB Sportsbrands that oversees the MORE体育 platform, about the importance of digital content during COVID-19, the Steve Nash launch, branded content, and what the future roadmap looks like.

Top Industry News

1) Borussia Dortmund Reach 2.9m Viewers with First-Ever China Virtual Fan Party

The Bundesliga side reacted quickly to the last-minute cancellation of the Revierderby Vs Schalke 04 at the weekend, turning the planned live viewing party into a first-of-a-kind ‘virtual fan party’ in China on Weibo. 2.9m total views, 110k at its peak, 12 partners incorporated, and positive fan reactions across the board. Read more on SportsPro (English) and Sina Sports (Chinese)

Mailman Take: The club listened to its fans in China and reaped the rewards for its dedication and quick thinking. BVB had less than 24 hours to turn a live viewing party into an online virtual fan party - a first-of-its-kind. This set the benchmark in China for digital sports fan events, a model we expect many to follow in the coming weeks and months. It’s time to get creative, the fans are expecting.

2) As NBA Season Halts, Fans Are Looking for MORE

The athlete-centric entertainment APP & social media management ecosystem, MORE体育, has been met with huge demand for their NBA-player partners, with brands hoping to engage directly with fans in China through authentically created content. MORE has content partnerships with over 40 NBA athletes and currently manages an active roster of 16 of them on social media, including NBA talents such as James Harden, Luka Dončić, Donovan Mitchell, and retired stars like Kevin Garnett and Steve Nash. Last week, Steve Nash launched his Douyin account reaching over 10m views for his launch video and 600k+ follower growth within the first 24 hours. Read more on the MORE Sports page (Chinese)

Mailman Take: Professional Basketball has stopped, for now, creating a gap in the market to engage and entertain content-starved fans. MORE is well-placed to fill this void, as cameras follow current and retired athletes throughout their daily lives while shedding new light on their personalities. Bridging that gap is more important than ever right now.

3) European Football Clubs & PP Sports Raise $100K in Jersey Auctions The Chinese digital sports streaming platform worked with Tottenham Hotspur, Borussia Dortmund, Manchester United, Real Madrid, Liverpool, and Inter Milan to raise over $100k through online auctions for charities fighting COVID-19. Altogether, 34 jerseys were auctioned off, while more than one million netizens watched the live auctions online. Read more on Xinhua (English) and Sohu (Chinese)

4) FIFA Looks at Alternative Club World Cup 2021 Dates FIFA President Gianni Infantino has confirmed the delay of the inaugural staging of its revamped Club World Cup in China. This is a well-received decision by the footballing world as it will accommodate the new dates for the European Championship and Copa América national team tournaments next year. FIFA also announced it will be publishing full match replays of more than 30 unforgettable games from the FIFA World Cup™ and FIFA Women’s World Cup™ on Weibo as part of the #WorldCupAtHome campaign. Read more on FIFA English & Chinese

5) Chinese Super League On Course for April Start

Originally set to start on February 22, the Chinese Super League (CSL) looks set to begin on April 18. We spoke with Wild East Football’s Cameron Wilson about the latest rumours. “I would say a mid-April start date is possible but looks a little optimistic. The majority of schools are not yet back, and school status is really the key indicator of how close to normality China is. It's likely that opening matches might be played behind closed doors. The ACL is suspended indefinitely and there is also the usual two-week gap reserved for international fixtures. The other option to relieve fixture congestion would be to cancel the CFA cup. The cup disappeared for four years in the late 00s, suggesting priority not as high. If the league resumes say, the third week of April, that would mean the CSL would be around 8 games behind schedule. Since the season normally finishes sometime in November, it would seem like there would be enough time to fit missed games in.” Read more on Daily Mail (English) and Eastday (Chinese)

6) NBA’s Digital Fan Base Continues to Rise in China During Turbulent Times Since that Daryl Morey Tweet last September, the NBA has experienced difficult times in China to say the least. But despite the hoards of negative headlines and sponsor dropouts, the NBA’s fan base has continued to grow. We took a deep dive into the data and insights to see the impact on digital. Turns out it’s not been that bad for a down year... Read the Blog on SportsPro (English)

7) Wanda Sports Complete $240m Loan The loan with Credit Suisse is a needed financial boost for Wanda and will enable the company to refinance and prepay its existing senior 364-day loan facility Read more on SportBusiness (English) and Sina (Chinese)

From The Top

Bill Sanders, SVP of Talent & Partnerships at AIB Sportsbrands that oversees the MORE体育 platform

1. With a distinct lack of live sport in the coming months, what's MORE doing to take advantage of this to gain new followers and further entertain current ones?

Sports has always provided a form of escape and respite during times of difficulty and crisis. This situation is especially unique because NBA games are cancelled. That said, athletes continue to inspire their fans, perhaps now more than ever.

MORE is working with all of our athlete partners to create content that is relevant to this unprecedented situation. Athletes are able to connect with fans while they are away from the game. Whether they are staying in shape, learning to cook, learning an instrument or playing video games, what they are doing while this passes is not only interesting to fans, it’s also inspiring.

2. The recent Steve Nash launch was huge. Why did it work so well and who else do you have in the pipeline coming soon, and how will you top the Nash launch with these?

You might be surprised to learn that Steve was one of the very first athletes to embrace social media. He developed his own authentic and unique voice, and became comfortable letting fans into his life. So Douyin is no different for Steve than any of the other platforms he engages with. He just shows his true self: a dad who loves his family, loves soccer and isn’t afraid to be self-deprecating.

And with our lineup, we have plenty in the pipeline. Luka Doncic, Pascal Siakim, James Harden, Kelly Oubre Jr. and many more to come to both Douyin and other Chinese social media platforms.

3. What conversations are you having with the athletes and what are you asking them to do? Has this conversation changed in recent weeks?

We are asking athletes to be authentic, and to work with us to create content that reflects that. It really varies from athlete to athlete. Some guys want to speak directly to fans, while others want to share what they are doing to stay fit for example. We are also working with our guys to get up to speed on Douyin and share how they’re passing the time.

4. For any brands out there looking for branded content opportunities with MORE, what makes the content on your platforms and athletes' platforms so unique and valuable?

Unlike traditional “branded content”, we are creating fun and engaging content that naturally incorporates brands. Digital viewers are really savvy these days. They don’t want to be sold to. They want to be entertained and informed. And the integration needs to be authentic.

The connection between the athlete and the brand needs to be real. You can’t have an athlete driving a car he wouldn’t drive, or using a product he doesn’t like. With MORE, brands work with us to create quality content that incorporates their brand while remaining tasteful and entertaining.

5. You saw a niche in the Chinese market and have capitalised. What does your 5-year roadmap look like in terms of athlete numbers and user base? Does your long-term strategy differ from the current?

We don’t have a magic number of athletes we want to work with. Since our agreements allow athletes to do as little or as much as they want to do with us, the only real limit is that we don’t want to work with athletes unless they really care about Chinese fans. As far as a user base goes, although we have surpassed our own internal projections, we also know we have only scratched the surface. As for the future, we want to continue to grow our content offering to include sports like soccer, track and field, tennis and golf.

We are also focusing heavily on e-sports and gaming, since so many of our users also enjoy online gaming. The esports world has a shortage of lifestyle content that we are addressing. There’s a ton of growth opportunities for us.

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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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