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  • Writer's pictureDenis Green

China Sports Business Weekly | 22nd May

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

In the news this week: UFC targets Next Gen with Bilibili launch, Yao Ming looks to schools for talent, Suning eyes youth football development, Watford FC seals record partnership with Kelme, fitness app Keep becomes a unicorn, all the best creatives from 520, a newsletter for women in sport, and an ice hockey top 10. 

In this week’s From The Top, we spoke with Tony Qi, Managing Director, Major League Baseball China. Tony discussed his first year in the role, how Chinese culture complements baseball, attracting a younger audience, and what development center success looks like.

Top Industry News

1) UFC Launches on Bilibili, the Next Gen YouTube of China

Bilibili marks the 6th official UFC Chinese social media platform in China. By launching on Bilibili, UFC will provide regular content to a huge untapped user base by sports properties, of which 72 percent are Generation Z. The UFC is the first international sports property to open an official account, highlighting the organisation’s continued dedication and expansion in the region. It remains to be seen how much Bilibili is willing to invest in & focus on sports. We’re soon to find out. Read more on SportsPro (English) and Sohu (Chinese)

2) Yao Ming: Cooperation with Schools is Key to Nurture Basketball Talent

The President of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) sees cooperation with Chinese school sports governing bodies as the answer to nurture more basketball talent in the country. The CBA signed a cooperation agreement with the Federation of University of China (FUSC) and China School Sports Federation (CSSF). Read more on China Daily (English) and Sina Sports (Chinese)

3) Suning Sports to Promote Youth Development in Football

Suning will collaborate with the China School Sports Federation to increase on-site youth football development in China. The launch of the student sports programs includes charity projects, match promotion, and youth training. Digital broadcaster PP Sports, which is owned by Suning, will be the exclusive partner to broadcast matches of the Chinese Schools Football Association Cup. Read more on Xinhua (English) and GMW (Chinese)

4) Watford FC in Four-Year Record Deal with Kelme Worth £10M Kelme, founded in Spain but now under Chinese ownership, will produce the club's kits and training wear for the men's and women's first-team squads and all academy levels, as well as technical products that will be featured in the club’s retail stores. Read more on Watford FC (English) and Ecosports (Chinese)

Best of the Rest

Jeneration Capital Leads $80M Round E in Keep

Fitness app Keep has become China's first sports tech startup to achieve a $1B valuation after raising $80M in its Series E round funding led by Jeneration Capital Management. Read more on China Money Network (English) and ifeng (Chinese) 

Mike Tyson Hits 2.5M Douyin Followers in first 24H The boxing legend relaunched his Weibo and also launched on Douyin in a bid to boost his profile in China. The former champion amassed 2.49M followers in less than a day with his opening video, making him the fastest-growing athlete on Douyin within the first 24 hours, adding to the hype surrounding his much anticipated return to professional boxing. Read more on Dahe Bao (Chinese)

Bilibili Posts Strong Q1 User Growth

The Chinese video streaming website recorded a 70% YoY growth to reach 172M monthly active users in Q1 this year, placing Bilibili in the same league as video services operated by Tencent and iQiyi. In the same period, Tencent Video reported 112M subscribers, while iQiyi commanded 119M, almost all of whom are paying. Bilibili, by contrast, saw only about 8% of its MAU base paying. Read more on TechCrunch (English) and Sina (Chinese)

Creatives of the Week - 520 May 20 is an important date in China, commonly known in the country as ‘I Love You day’. Why? Because 520 (May 20) in Chinese is ‘Wu er ling’, which sounds similar to ‘Wo ai ni’, meaning ‘I Love You’. We’ve taken a look at some of the most creative 520 concepts from sports organisations. - PSG launched a choose-your-own-adventure H5 game for their fans in China as they enabled fans to develop their own storyline and fall in love on 520. - Tottenham Hotspur developed a new H5 channel enabling their fans to share their messages of love towards their favourite players. The messages were captured and turned into social content.

- DRL had an influencer drawing 520 with coloured Racer 4 LED lights.

- Chelsea launched an H5 game where fans compete to "capture" the most number of hearts from players, while sharing their story of how they fell in love with the club.

- NHL produced a heart-shaped graphic featuring pictures of some of the league’s most-loved players. - MLB encouraged all sports fans to express their love to their teammates, coaches, even opponents, or share their most memorable “brotherhood” moments/stories of any sport. - LA Lakers delivered a campaign for fans to submit Lakers love letters highlighting their passion for the team

Newsletter News

Upswing - A Newsletter Created for Women in Digital Sport, Created by Women in Digital Sport

This exciting new newsletter aims to offer something beneficial to all of the women working in the digital sport sector. Interested? sign up here

From The Top

Tony Qi, Managing Director, Major League Baseball China

1. You moved to MLB China last year from Fox. How has your first year in the job and what's been your main focus?

I have been a baseball fan since Junior high school, working for MLB, and to grow baseball interests in China it’s like a dream job. MLB has been in China since 2007, since then we have been focused on growing baseball participation in China. We’ve developed nationwide youth tournaments such as MLB Cup and First Pitch (formerly known as PlayBall! and Jr. PlayBall!). 

As of today, there are more than 1.3 million kids who have participated in our program. According to iResearch, the active baseball participants in China have grown from 2009’s 1.2 million to 2019’s 8.5 million. But if you look at the media in China, you don’t see too much baseball content. We need to educate the market, especially when baseball rules are considered difficult to follow, we need to arouse people’s interests, we need to tell more baseball stories to our China audiences, and the media is the platform to do so. 

Thus, with my background, we’ve started to create a series of content to promote baseball culture from all aspects, to educate the Chinese audience to participate and to love baseball. Now, MLB China is having an additional role as a sports and entertaining content provider other than just a sports league, with focus on content creation and crossover cooperation, we hope to reach out to different communities. We are building the connection between baseball and Chinese fans by telling the baseball story from fashion, entertainment, sport, movies perspectives. Our goal is to make baseball part of fans’ daily life.

2. How did you adapt during no live sport to keep your fans engaged and appeal to new ones?

MLB is more than a sports competition. The COVID-19 pandemic forced most worldwide sports leagues to hit the pause button including us, MLB has rich history and cultural impact and has become a symbol of fashion across the world, so we have lots of stories to tell. We kept telling baseball stories and promoting baseball games through various original content and interactive online activities. 

During the pandemic, we’ve launched #Living Room Baseball Challenge and #Pitching and Quick Change Challenge on social platforms. The total video views generated over 100 million. And we also launched a few original content series, including educational and entertaining animation series Baseball 101. Within 1 week of launching episode 1, it has reached 5 million video views. We kept our fans well engaged through authentic content and interactive social campaigns, and we will continue doing this throughout the year.

3. Baseball has cultural ties to China. How are you utilising these to help develop awareness and quality of the sport?

In the States, a kid could receive a baseball glove and a baseball from the father when he or she just learns how to walk, and they could practice and have fun in the park or their backyard. From that point on, baseball would always be part of the family bond. Family and home are two of the most important values of Chinese culture. Baseball has strong connections with “home”. There are baseball terms such as Home Run and Home Plate, which are all related to the home. Baseball could bond the parents and kids together, which gives the sport special meanings. When Chinese people get to know baseball, they will find the natural bond and fall in love with the sport.

4. Baseball's fanbase is aging. What are you doing to appeal to the younger generations?

Research shows MLB fans in China are quite young. More than half of them are between 16-29. Last year was the tenth-year anniversary of MLB Experience in China, a carnival-like roadshow we developed to get people to experience baseball. We combined baseball with elements of video games, street dance, and fashion to attract more young people. Content-wise, we will launch a series of new content tailormade for our local fans in the second half of 2020, focusing on fashion, local baseball heroes, and many more.

5. What are the biggest challenges you've faced in catching the attention of the younger generations?

The younger generations have lots of choices when it comes to sports, entertainment, and content. The challenge is how to arouse their interests and introduce the charm of baseball to them. To do so, we need to speak their language and connect baseball with fashion and many more elements to show the different aspects of the sport to the “Generation Z”. 

We need to communicate with the younger generation in different ways, such as great baseball stories, esports, immersive experiences, and events. On the youth level, we will continue our youth tournaments during the fall season and initiate baseball clinics for beginners in the second half to attract more young people.

6. Development Centers have been a focal point of your growth in China. What equals success for you in the next 3-5 years from these centers?

We want to make MLB Development Centers the “Baseball Dream Factory”. We have made many efforts, step by step, we created a system to nurture Chinese baseball talent. From seeds to towering trees, we will continue striving. We now have fruitful results, so far, 7 players were signed by MLB teams, 34 have played for Team China on various levels and over 50 graduates continue to play baseball in universities. We are trying our best to help the young talent to pursue their professional careers, and I’m confident the numbers will grow in the next few years.

Top 10

This week we look at the most followed current Ice Hockey teams on Weibo


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