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  • Writer's pictureDenis Green

China Sports Business Weekly | 25th February

Hello Industry Friends, here are the very latest news and insights from China.

📰 Headlines: Kuaishou adds UEFA Champions League to growing sports portfolio, ATP releases calendar including China, CSL returns to familiar home & away format, Beijing to host IBSF World Cup, ANTA benefits from Olympic fever, WeChat Channels grows fast.

🗣 In this week’s From The Top, we spoke with Wang Shujun, Head of Sports Content Partnerships, Xiaohongshu, about how Xiaohongshu engaged with the Beijing Winter Olympics, the biggest learnings, most popular content & why, looking back - what would they have done differently, how brands activated, successful case studies, as well as future development plans in sport.


🗞️ Top Industry News Kuaishou Wins UEFA Champions League Live Rights The popular short video platform, which was heavily involved in the Beijing Olympics, will provide live and on-demand content from Europe's premier football competition for the remainder of this season. Read more on Pandaily (English) Beijing Daily (Chinese) 💡 Mailman Take: Kuaishou will provide a new viewing experience for Champions League fans by offering new formats with fan commentary and UGC supporting the live broadcast. Well-known pundits & popular commentators add to Kuaishou’s offering in its attempt to entice fans away from rival platforms. This puts the number of platforms showing the Champions League at five. Amid a difficult period for Western rights holders in China, it’s a strong showing from UEFA, despite the expected low financial returns. ATP Tour Eyes China Return This Year The men's ATP tour plans to host four tournaments in China this season, including the Chengdu Open, Zhuhai Championships, China Open and Shanghai Masters, which are set to take place between September and October. "The ATP continues to take a fluid approach to the calendar and the schedule remains subject to change," the tour said in a statement. Read more on Reuters (English) 💡 Mailman Take: ‘On the calendar’ is still a far cry from actually hosting an event. Beijing 2022 proved China can handle a large-scale event, albeit utilising a bubble format with incredibly strict COVID-19 protocols. A lot will depend on whether China chooses to relax border controls and reduce quarantine time. China’s domestic events will always take precedence ahead of international events.

CSL Set For Home & Away Format The Chinese Super League will (CSL) look to return to playing matches on a home-and-away format when the competition returns in April. Soccer News reported that the Chinese Football Association (CFA) had written to clubs playing in the top three tiers of Chinese football to inform them about the return to the original format. Read more on Reuters (English) and The Beijing News (Chinese) 💡 Mailman Take: Finally signs of a local league returning to pre-covid formats. The CSL has been thrown into turmoil in recent years, and that’s putting it nicely, with league champions folding, clubs going bankrupt, games put on hold for World Cup qualifying, and much more. If the CSL can resume this format with full stadiums and no Olympic-style bubbles - then this bodes well for all other leagues and tournaments looking to stage events in China in 2022.

Beijing to Host IBSF World Cup in Five-Year Deal Beijing’s Yanqing National Sliding Centre will be home to International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation (IBSF) World Cup events. This represents a major boost in terms of the sustainability of a venue built for the Games and China's goal to increase winter sports participation. Beijing 2022's legacy plan aims to ensure that all venues are put to use after the Games and not abandoned. Read more on InsideTheGames (English) and China Daily (Chinese) 💡 Mailman Take: If China is serious about continuing its Winter sports legacy and getting more people involved in ice and snow sports, then deals like this will go a long way to supporting that goal. Too often have we seen Olympic venues go unused following a Games. China’s claim of 350M people already participating in ice and snow sports is questionable, but if they can manage even one-third of that it will be a triumph. ANTA Sales On Taobao Hit $16M During Winter Olympics Period Between Feb 4 - 18, sales of ANTA products increased 29% compared to the fortnight before, while other big name winter sports brands such as Burton have seen big upticks in sales. Read more on Ecosports (Chinese)

Xianfeng Fruit Company Sponsors Hangzhou 2022 The Xianfeng Fruit Company will supply fresh produce to athletes at the pan-regional event, joining 112 other confirmed sponsors for the 2022 Asian Games. Top-tier local sponsors include China Telecom, China Mobile and e-commerce company Alibaba Group, while international brands Canon, Panasonic and PricewaterhouseCoopers will also sponsor the event. The 2022 Asian Games is scheduled to be held from September 10 to 25. Read more on SportBusiness (English) and Sina (Chinese)


🤔 Opinion WeChat Channels: The next point of growth for WeChat marketing in China

Tencent's video-sharing platform within WeChat may be a latecomer in the Chinese market, but it offers marketers specific capabilities and large potential reach, aimed to challenge platforms such as Douyin, Kuaishou, Bilibili, and Red in short-video marketing. Read more on Campaign Asia (English)

Beijing Winter Olympics: Record-high trust levels among Chinese nationals With the world paralysed by the ongoing pandemic, piling-up geopolitical tensions, and irreconcilable disputes over human rights positions, controversy is an understatement when describing the journey leading up to the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games. However, in the eyes of billions of Chinese nationals, Beijing would come through the storm as nothing short of a champion. Read more on Campaign Asia (English)

Why ANTA Brought Home Gold at the Olympics ANTA Sports, an official sportswear partner of the 2022 Winter Olympic Games and Paralympics Winter Games, has transformed its partnership with Chinese freestyle skier and Olympic gold medallist Eileen Gu into a unique marketing opportunity, catapulting the brand into the global spotlight. Jing Daily explores more (English)


📢 From The Top

🗣 Wang Shujun, Head of Sports Content Partnerships, Xiaohongshu

1. How did Xiaohongshu engage with the Beijing Winter Olympics to bring more content to Xiaohongshu users?

To welcome the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, which started on 4 February 2022, Xiaohongshu launched an interactive page with competition schedules and results, ongoing updates of the medal count, must-see moments of the Games, and highlights of what athletes, journalists and volunteers on the ground were sharing from their experiences at the Olympics.

During the Winter Olympics, 23 Olympic athletes joined Xiaohongshu, including five gold medalists Ren Ziwei, Eileen Gu, Gao Tingyu, Xu Mengtao, Qi Guangpu, as well as China's first-ever Winter Olympics gold medalist speed skater Yang Yang, and other athletes and coaches. Their posts went beyond competition-related content, sharing glimpses into their daily lives, becoming very popular among the community with fans flocking to their official accounts to express their support for the sports stars.

These athletes also held livestreaming sessions on Xiaohongshu, increasing the engagement among their fans. Other than those representing China, foreign athletes also became popular on Xiaohongshu, such as Spanish athlete Thibault Magnin.


2. What were the biggest learnings from the Winter Olympics in terms of user engagement and search preferences?

There’s been a lot of interest in athletes, and our strategy to onboard athletes really worked to our favor. From 4-12 February 2022, searches for Eileen Gu surged and even ranked among the top five search terms on Xiaohongshu, reflecting the immense interest. In fact, searches for “Eileen Gu” surged 27 times on the day she won Gold in the Women’s Freeski Big Air event, compared to the opening day of the Games.

We also found that our users were actively interested in winter sports, with short track speed skating being the most talked-about, followed by the women’s freeski big air, and figure skating. This flowed over to experiencing winter sports —from 1 January to 20 February, 2022, the searches for "ski resorts" on Xiaohongshu increased by 75% year-on-year compared with the same period in 2021, while searches for "skiing & snowboarding tutorials" increased by 177% year-on-year, and searches for "skiing & snowboarding equipment" increased by 116% year-on-year.

The content around winter sports on Xiaohongshu also points to our users’ preference for informative posts more than just entertainment — ranging from tutorials to choosing skiing and snowboarding equipment, to reviews of ski resorts, and how to take good pictures. Among these, posts featuring interesting on-site videos of ski resorts, skiing and snowboarding tutorials including tips on gear, and showcasing tricks on the slopes, were the most popular ones.

3. What content surprised you the most from Beijing 2022 in terms of popularity from your users?

Definitely Bing Dwen Dwen. From 1-12 February this year, in less than half a month, the number of posts on Xiaohongshu with the keywords "Bing Dwen Dwen" increased by more than 208 times compared with the whole year of 2021, while the searches related to "Bing Dwen Dwen" on Xiaohongshu increased by more than 177 times compared with the whole year of 2021.

From the posts on Xiaohongshu, we observed that our community was seeking out their own ways to participate in the Winter Olympics, with the mascot Bing Dwen Dwen becoming undoubtedly one of the top performers this Winter Olympics. As purchasing a Bing Dwen Dwen plush toy was out of reach for many, Xiaohongshu users tapped on their creativity and our platform was soon flooded with Bing Dwen Dwen creations ranging from stick figures to those made with clay, mud, Lego, ice, and even orange peels and dumplings.

4. If the Beijing Olympics were to start again tomorrow, what would you do differently and why?

This is a very interesting question. Actually, while preparing for the Winter Olympics, we already knew exactly what we wanted to do and what role we could play in the Olympics. Xiaohongshu is a lifestyle platform that many people turn to as a guide — so we hope that through the platform, winter sports will become popular in people’s lives. At the same time, we are also an online community through which users can interact with Winter Olympic athletes on a more personal level, such as Eileen Gu sharing her makeup process, Gao Tingyu who shared her haircut at the Olympic Village, and posts from Ren Ziwei's classmate, Su Yiming's childhood friend etc.

The presence of these people on Xiaohongshu allows users to connect with the Winter Olympics in a more multi-dimensional way, which has shown great results. After the Winter Olympics, we feel that we have achieved what we set out to do, so even if we turn back time, we wouldn't choose to do anything differently.

5. How did brands activate around Beijing 2022 on Xiaohongshu? Any winning case studies?

The Winter Olympics is a significant event for many brands. For the Winter Olympics project on Xiaohongshu, we also cooperated with Anta (the official sponsor of the Chinese Winter Olympics delegation) to provide Xiaohongshu users with prizes related to winter sports, hoping to inspire more people to participate in winter sports.

6. Are there any sporting events coming up that Xiaohongshu plans to partner with? What can we expect to see?

We have always been intent on the strategic development of sports content and we are open to collaborating with all high-quality sports IPs. In the past year, we have become the official partner of the Chinese women's football team and the strategic partner of CMG's top competitions. We have continuously attracted clubs like Barcelona, Juventus, the French national team, and various CBA clubs to Xiaohongshu.

During the Winter Olympics, we signed on Eileen Gu as our ambassador, and secured in-depth cooperation with many Olympic champions such as Ren Ziwei, Gao Tingyu, Xu Mengtao, Qi Guangpu, etc. Going forward, we hope to have many more collaborations with high-quality IPs, and we look forward to sharing specifics with you in the near future.


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