• Denis Green

China Sports Business Weekly | 24th April

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


Making the headlines this week: Panini America starts China trading card revolution with Tmall store, LaLiga becomes the first league to partner with Douyin, Guangzhou stadium set to break records, Wuhan FC returns home, Beyond Meat lands on Starbucks menus, Lululemon apologises, and Evil Geniuses arrives. 


In this week’s From The Top, we spoke with Jason Howarth, VP of Marketing at Panini America, about Panini America’s first 9 months in China, strategy adjustments due to COVID-19, the importance of Panini products with no live sport, and what success will look like in one year’s time.

Top Industry News

1) Panini America Products in High Demand on China Tmall Launch Day The global leader in trading cards and the exclusive trading card partner of the NBA, FIFA, NFL and EPL officially launched on Tmall, making a wide range of products available online, exclusive to China. Panini America also hosted a live stream on launch day, reaching 250K total viewership and 400K Weibo hashtag reads, and sold out a number of high-value products within the first hour. Read more on Sports Money (Chinese) Mailman Take: China’s core collecting community is very engaged and always welcoming of international products tailored and exclusive to the region. As the biggest ecommerce market in the world, China represents a huge opportunity for any brand looking at a patient long-term strategy. If Panini plays its ‘cards’ right and listens to its consumers, they will be looking at China as a key growth and revenue market for years to come.


2) LaLiga Becomes First International Football League to Partner with Douyin The Spanish league follows in the footsteps of the NBA by announcing a social media partnership with China’s most popular short form video app, Douyin. The partnership will run until March 2021. Read more on SportBusiness (English) and LaLiga (Chinese)

Mailman Take: The Bytedance-owned platform is a key driver for sports organisations to engage and grow a fan base in China, with a number of clubs recently turning to Douyin for live stream content. This provides clubs with another entertainment format where fans can consume content and interact at the same time. It won’t be long until we see ecommerce integrated into these as brands seek to monetise. 



3) $1.7B Guangzhou Evergrande Stadium Starts Construction The Chinese Super League team has broken ground on the large-scale project to construct the biggest football stadium in the world, expected to be completed by 2022. The lotus-shaped stadium will have the capacity to hold 100,000 spectators. Read more on Forbes (English) and Ecosports (Chinese)

Mailman Take: Will this stadium be full for every Guangzhou Evergrande home game? No. Will it even be at 50% capacity? Possibly. Is this another strong signal that China is putting down a marker to host a FIFA World Cup soon? Most certainly. Last season, the team averaged around 40-45K for home games, the highest in the CSL. Evergrande also announced plans for two more stadiums in the country with capacities of at least 80K. Could this be the start of their bid for FIFA World Cup 2030 in China?

4) Wuhan Football Team Returns Home After 4 Months The nearly 50 members of the squad had been away since Jan 2, when the team left to begin training for the Chinese league season that was supposed to start in February but was eventually suspended, and is still suspended. Read more on SI (English) and Sina (Chinese)

Best of the Rest


Beyond Meat Lands on Starbucks Menus in China

Starbucks has teamed up with Beyond Meat, producer of plant-based meat substitutes, to launch a meat-free lunch menu in China. This partnership marks Beyond Meat’s entry into the Chinese market, and will be featured in three different menu items in China where Starbucks operates over 4K restaurant locations. Read more on Reuters (English) and Sohu (Chinese)

Mailman Take: In partnering with one of the most trusted international brands of the rising Chinese consumer class, Beyond Meat earns brand recognition and lays the foundations for wider adoption of plant-based meat. An incredibly smart entry into the China market when healthy lifestyle is a mega trend in the post COVID-19 world. Lululemon Apologises for Offensive T-shirt The Canadian apparel brand issued statements apologising for, and distancing itself from, a T-shirt design promoted by a former employee (as an affiliate) that triggered outrage and accusations of racism online. The hashtag "Lululemon insults China" was viewed hundreds of millions of times on Weibo, with some commentators demanding a boycott of the brand. Read more on Jing Daily (English) and Sina (Chinese)

Esports News

Tencent and Yoozoo Games to Launch Brawl Stars in China  Supercell’s hit 3V3 battle royale title Brawl Stars will launch on June 9. Tencent will partner with Yoozoo Games to distribute Brawl Stars in the Chinese market. The game has been listed number 1 of the free list of 85 countries (and regions) after it went online overseas, and topped the top-selling list of 73 countries and regions. Read more on Pandaily (English) and Youxiputao (Chinese) 

Evil Geniuses Launch China Presence The North American League of Legends Team has officially launched on Weibo as it looks to grow its footprint across the biggest esports market in the world. Check out the Weibo page.



From The Top

Jason Howarth, VP of Marketing at Panini America

1. Since launching in China last summer, how have the first 9 months been and what have been your key learnings?

From a market perspective it’s been great being able to engage with Chinese consumers through our trading card content, behind the scenes videos with key NBA, NFL and EPL players across our Weibo, WeChat and Douyin platforms. The Chinese consumers have shown how passionate they are for sport and interested in our products. Even with all the things we could not predict the loss of our global spokesperson and partner, Kobe Bryant and then the global Covid-pandemic Chinese consumers continue to embrace our product as witnessed through the launch of our Tmall store this past week.

2. What are the main differences operating in China compared to the US?

Surprisingly, it’s not as different as you would think. The Chinese marketplace shares the same passion for trading cards as the U.S. trading card community – which is why we were so intrigued to engage directly with the China market.

3. Due to the global pandemic, have you had to adjust your strategy ahead of this launch?

Sure, we have been affected – but we continue to work through those challenges remotely. It’s been staggered in that our initial plan to launch our Tmall store was to coincide with the NBA All-Star Game, but the pandemic was hitting the Chinese market – so we chose to delay it. When China recovered the U.S. was dealing with the pandemic and all sports had stopped being played.

4. During a period of no live sport, how important can your products be to sports fans these days?

Very important. What we’ve found is that even with no sports being played - consumers around the globe are turning to our sports trading card products as a release and to fill the void of sports.  While they may be in a “stay home” scenario they are finding ways to engage with other collectors online through livestreams and online case-breaking.  

5. One year from now, what would success in China look like for you?

I think first, we’d like to see the return of live sports. But, I think we would also have a keep of key measurements for success all being around continuing to grow interest in trading cards in the mainstream community and embracing of other key sports trading cards like the NFL and English Premier League.

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