• Denis Green

China Sports Business Weekly | 24th July

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


Here’s what’s been making the headlines this week: The UFC makes first China esports partnership with PEL, CCTV-5 moves EPL games to CCTV-5+, BVB kicks off virtual China tour with Tmall launch, PP Sports announces key platform partnerships with Weibo & Kuaishou, CBA to allow spectators in stadiums, CBA and Wanda CEOs step down, League of Legends gets a global makeover. 

In this week’s From The Top we spoke with Kevin Chang, SVP APAC at UFC, about the UFC’s latest esports partnership in China, how esports fits into the organisation's strategy, and leveraging digital during Fight Island.

Top Industry News

1) UFC and PEL Esports League Announce China Partnership Popular Chinese esports league the Peacekeeper Elite League (PEL), published by Tencent Gaming, becomes the first esports tie-up for the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in China. The UFC will produce content and activities to highlight the similarities between the game and the octagon. As of June this year, the PEL 2020 S1 season finals reached 200M live views, and PEL is one of the top two mobile games in China. Read more on Dotesports (English) and Ecosports (Chinese)

2) CCTV-5 Moves English Premier League Matches to CCTV-5+ On early Thursday morning, China’s only national sports broadcaster CCTV-5 was scheduled to broadcast Live the English Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Chelsea FC at 03:45am China time. CCTV-5 ended up not broadcasting the match live. Instead, the affiliate channel CCTV-5+ aired the Liverpool FC and Chelsea FC game at 03:45am China time. CCTV-5 eventually showed a rerun of the match approximately 8 hours later. The move has caused uncertainty as to whether CCTV-5 will broadcast EPL games in the future. This will be one to keep an eye on. Read more on SportsPro (English) and Lanxiong Sports (Chinese) 3) Borussia Dortmund Launches Tmall Store to Kick Off Virtual Asia Tour The Bundesliga club kicked off its virtual summer tour of Asia by announcing the launch of an official Tmall store on the Alibaba-owned eCommerce platform. As the only European football club so far to announce an Asia-specific tour, the club will double down on efforts to engage its Eastern fanbase by providing fans with more touchpoints and engagement activities throughout the Shanghai leg of its three-city Asia tour. Read more on SportsBusiness (English) and Lanxiong Sports (Chinese)

4) PP Sports Signs Strategic Partnerships with Weibo and Kuaishou Ahead of CSL Start The exclusive digital broadcaster of the Chinese Super League in China, which recently announced all matches on mobile will be free-to-air, has now partnered with two of China’s most prominent platforms: Weibo and Kuaishou. Both platforms will work closely with PP Sports to promote and market the upcoming CSL season. Read more on Xinhua (Chinese) 5) CBA to Allow Fans Back in Stadiums The Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) will start to sell tickets to fans on July 31, when the playoffs kick off at the Qingdao Guosen Gymnasium arena. On July 23, medical staff, teachers and public security staff will be able to book tickets to watch the two matches on July 26. This is the first time fans can enter the venue to watch any sports events since the COVID-19 breakout. Read more on Toutiao (Chinese) 6) CBA CEO Resigns Outgoing CEO Wang Dawei became the CBA League’s first-ever CEO 14 months ago after receiving support from Chinese basketball legend Yao Ming, who will now take charge of the league’s day-to-day operations. Before joining the CBA, Wang held the role as senior vice-president and chief marketing officer of NBA China for over a decade. The CBA stated that Wang left for “personal reasons”. Read more on Xinhua (English) and Huanqiu (Chinese) 7) Wanda Sports Completes Ironman Sale, CEO Steps Down The completion of the sale to US-based media and technology group Advance Publications for $730M coincided with the news that Lin Zhang, chairman and board member at Wanda Sports Group, has relinquished his roles. It’s been confirmed Zhang was stepping down from his positions to “assume a new role within the broader Wanda Group”. Read more on SportBusiness (English) and 36kr (Chinese) 8) Yum China Named as Sponsor for Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics Yum China Holdings Inc was named as an official retail food services sponsor for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. Yum China’s brands, including KFC and Pizza Hut, will be on-site at the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing. The company, a licensee of Yum Brands Inc in mainland China, was also named as an official sponsor of the Chinese Olympic Committee through to the end of 2024. Read more on Reuters (English) and Lanxiong Sports (Chinese) 9) WTA, ATP Tennis Cancel China Tournaments All international tennis tournaments in China this year, including the Shanghai Masters and WTA Finals, have been  cancelled due to COVID-19. Read more on Yahoo (English) and Lanxiong Sports (Chinese) In Other News Report: Being Hyper-Local with Marketing Across APAC Video is a dominating content format worldwide. As mobile data gets cheaper and connection speeds get faster, the Asia-Pacific region has seen skyrocketing growth in the consumption and creation of videos, as well as a rise in new video platforms and formats. The report focuses on just five video trends we’ve observed across Asia-Pacific, each of which present opportunities for global sports marketers and brands. Read the report (English)

Video of the Week NBA Style launched the Most Stylish Team campaign, engaging the NBA teams' fan bases in China to vote and help their favourite team clinch the final MST title. The NBA, 13x NBA teams, 9x NBA players, and over 40x fan community accounts are supporting the campaign. Esports News League of Legends Rebrands for Global Recognition League of Legends esports has been given a unifying makeover thanks to Riot Games, in what’s hoped to give the esports scene a stronger global identity. The new brand is simply titled LoL Esports, which comes with a new logo and encompasses all twelve pro leagues for League of Legends around the world. Read more on Verge (English) and Tencent (Chinese)


From The Top Kevin Chang, SVP APAC at UFC 1. This marks UFC's entry into esports in China. How does esports fit into your overall China strategy? There’s no denying that Esports is a massive global industry, with Tencent as the leader in that industry. Our collaboration is the first of its kind to see Game for Peace, one of Tencent’s most popular e-games in China, partnering with a professional sports organization. Thus far, the game has over 250 million Android downloads and 10 million Apple downloads, while their PEL Season 1 Finale had a live broadcast viewership that exceeded 220 million. Our partnership will feature social media initiatives and a content piece set at the UFC Performance Institute Shanghai, and extends our reach into the Battle Royale segment of e-sports where we see tremendous cross over opportunity. We’ve also recently launched UFC4 with EA Sports, and both of these initiatives show how we are finding creative solutions to broaden our reach in the esports world. 2. How will you work with PEL in order to optimise the partnership? The mental aspects of e-gaming including spatial awareness, tracking and processing speed are obviously important to an elite e-gamer, but so are the physical ones like endurance, hand-eye coordination and dexterity. Our MMA athletes are always thinking about ways to gain an edge in the Octagon, and it is no different in PEL. UFC Performance Institute is the Official High Performance Advisor to the COC (Chinese Olympic Commission), and we will employ the same customized approach to suit the needs of these athletes. We recently trained a group of elite e-gamers and after the experience, it really opened their eyes to a new way to gain an advantage in their sport. 3. The UFC has been active into entertainment shows recently. Does this reflect the diversity of UFC and why it has become so popular in China across different age groups? We are always looking at ways to produce locally relevant content while staying true to our roots as the premier MMA organization in the world, and leader in sports science. By venturing outside of the Octagon and into places like the UFC Performance Institute, we are able to share so much more about who we are to a wide and diverse audience. Another reason we appeal to fans in different age groups and demographics is that we are accessible. We strive to put the right mix of content on each of the major platforms that caters to their audience. For instance, our Free-to-air Nationwide and Regional TV broadcasts are typically an hour in length, and caters to an older demographic who is looking to sit back and enjoy a few good fights in the living room at a certain time of day. Meanwhile, our social media platforms typically feature much shorter snackable clips for younger fans on the go. 4. Fight Island has been in full swing while the majority of other sports haven't started yet. What's the reaction been like online and how have you taken advantage of this digitally? The response has been phenomenal around the world, and particularly in China. In the lead up to UFC 251, there was rampant speculation about who Zhang Weili’s next opponent would be, and all eyes were focused on the winner of Namajunas vs Andrade. The buzz involved both KOLs and hardcore fans alike, and we’ve had the highest level of engagement across all sports properties on Douyin during Fight Island. This is a good example of how we look at the storylines and implications of each bout to create trending topics online, even when there were no fighters from China on Fight Island. As one of the only sports that goes year-round without an offseason, it’s a way to continually deliver engaging content to our fans.

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