• Denis Green

China Sports Business Weekly | 25th October

Updated: Dec 5, 2019

Here are the top China sports business news stories you need to know from this week. In this edition, my From the Top interview is with Lulu He, Senior International Business Development Manager at Ajax FC. We talk through the club’s extended partnership with Guangzhou R&F, its growing influence on grassroots, and the long-term goals for Ajax.

China Set to Host Expanded World Club Cup in 2021 FIFA has chosen China to host the pilot edition of its expanded 24-team Club World Cup in 2021. The revised 24-team quadrennial tournament, confirmed by FIFA in March this year, is set to replace the existing seven-team Club World Cup, which traditionally takes place every December between the winners of the six premier continental club competitions and the host nation’s national champions. Read more on FIFA (English) and Ecosports (Chinese)

  • Mailman Take: This was unanimously voted by the FIFA Council, albeit with the President joking at the press conference that China was the only country in the running. This will be a good litmus test for China hosting a global men's football competition. Pull this one off and the FIFA World Cup could be next.


Ajax Partnership with Guangzhou R&F Going Strong The Eredivisie champions signed an expansion agreement with Guangzhou R&F FC. In the expanded agreement, the Ajax team at R&F will be strengthened by three more staff members, totaling 8 staff members in total (7 technical staff members and 1 partnership coordinator). They will be located at the R&F Football Academy, dedicated to building up the youth development structure. Read more on Ajax (English) and Dongqiudi (Chinese)

  • Mailman Take: There have been many partnership announcements resulting in no real substance. It’s usually about the headline. Ajax looks to be in the minority of clubs who are actually growing their local partnership, embedding more coaches, and broadening the deal structure.


CBA Announces Damai as Official Ticket Partner The Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) announced that they would launch an official ticket platform for the upcoming CBA season, cooperating exclusively with Damai Sports. This marks the first time an official ticketing platform will be used in the history of professional Chinese sports, according to CBA CEO David Wang. Read more on Tencent (Chinese)

Chinese Tennis Association Aces Deal with Ausnutria Dairy The global milk products conglomerate announced a brand partnership with the China Tennis Association (CTA), including a commitment to donate $14.1m over the next 10 years to Chinese public health projects. Ausnutria’s milk powder brand Allnutria will become the official dairy supplier, and Ausnutria-owned professional nutrition company Nutrition Care the official nutrition supplier, for the Chinese national tennis team. Read more on SportBusiness (English) and Xinhua (Chinese)


IAAF Diamond League Adds New China Meet

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) announced there would be 15 Diamond League meetings next season, including a new event in China. A new, second-tier tour of international one-day meetings will be launched that will focus on the new disciplines. Read more on SportBusiness (English) and Boba (Chinese)


Wholly Moly Collaborates with Olympic Champion Sun Yang Olympic swimming champion Sun Yang has become an official ambassador for the health food group Wholly Moly. Read more on Ecosports (Chinese) and check out their latest video here

In Other News


Mailman’s Red Card 2020 Awards Submissions Now Open The Red Card awards have become the most recognised industry awards in China, rewarding the most developed digital strategies and fan engagement initiatives. Find out more information on how you can enter in English and Chinese


NBA Season Openers Not Aired on CCTV Chinese state television did not air the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) season-opening games. Central Television (CCTV), which holds exclusive TV rights for the NBA, did not air the first regular-season game between the Toronto Raptors and the New Orleans Pelicans on its sports channel on Wednesday. It also chose to air the World Military Games in Wuhan instead of the second game of the day between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers. While CCTV isn’t broadcasting, digital rights holder Tencent Sports has resumed limited broadcasts. Read more on Reuters (English) and Sohu (Chinese)


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From the Top

This week I spoke to Lulu He, Senior International Business Development Manager at Ajax FC.

1. Ajax just expanded its partnership with Guangzhou R&F FC. Can you tell me about this partnership and what it's achieved over the past year? We started our partnership with R&F at the beginning of 2018 so we are now nearly two years into the partnership. The main objective of the partnership with Guangzhou R&F is to deliver knowledge on youth development. Our first step was to assign 4 Ajax staff members to relocate to China to support R&F with knowledge in improving the youth development system.

The expansion we’ve signed this time increases the number of staff members to seven, but the roles of our staff members are far more wide-ranging than only coaching the youth teams. Each of them is responsible for a specific subject in the youth academy: Technical Director, Head of Talent Development, Head of Scouting and Support, Head of Medical and Performance, Head of Video Analysis and Data, Head of Goalkeeping, Head of Youth (U8-U12).

We have seen some strong growth in the past 2 years at the R&F youth academy, the improvements have been mainly around the players, coaches, and infrastructure. Not only have the players become better football players and coaches better football coaches, but they have also become better people with a healthier lifestyle and improved mindset.

For the kids, to enjoy playing football is more important than anything else. We have agreed with R&F that we will also make additional investment into the partnership each year, we’ve purchased the football management platform for R&F so that the information can be shared between Amsterdam and Guangzhou much more easily. We have also purchased the performance cameras from our partner Hikvision, to be installed at R&F’s academy to enable the video analysis function there too.

2. Ajax is in this partnership for the long term and not just using it as a media headline. Why did Ajax choose Guangzhou R&F as the team to partner with in China? Ajax is well known for its reputation with youth development. It is our core business and it is in our DNA, therefore we are always especially careful when we select or are approached by parties who would like to establish a partnership in youth development with us. We knew R&F long before we started discussing the partnership. We kept in contact and visited each other several times, being sincere and honest on observations and opinions, exchanging philosophy and ideas. Eventually, the friendship and trust were deeply established among each other and naturally evolved into a partnership.

3. You were recently in China as part of the partnership expansion. What did you notice this time in terms of improvements and advancement in the academy and with Chinese football in general? In August, we’ve received a delegation of the new reformed CFA in Amsterdam. And last week during our stay in China, we saw the press conference of the transformation of Union of Professional Leagues in China, in which the CFA gave 100% autonomy to the Union. It was a pleasure to talk to the fresh-minded members of the CFA, and our partner R&F is highly involved in the Union. We strongly believe this reformation is a positive move for the professionalization of Chinese football in general. We see the future of Chinese football having an increased focus on youth development as well, in which Ajax can definitely make a positive contribution.

4. Aside from the academy, what else is Ajax doing in China online and offline? China has been one of our key markets in the past decade. Our CEO Edwin van der Sar has visited China nearly every year. Besides Guangzhou R&F, we have various media and commercial partners in China too. The newest partner we’ve signed is the one with Bloomberg Businessweek China last week in Guangzhou. Bloomberg Businessweek is one of the most influential media in the business and management world. We’ve been in contact with each other for years, Edwin van der Sar was invited to give a presentation at the Bloomberg “The Year Ahead” annual summit in Beijing in 2017.

For example, our partnership with Guangzhou R&F could be an interesting business study case to offer to Bloomberg Businessweek’s audience on how Chinese and European companies can work together and make a difference in a particular industry, sharing learnings, challenges and useful insights. For Ajax, this is also an ideal opportunity to enhance our brand awareness among the business audience, which is in line with our commercial ambitions.

5. What's the current five-year plan for Ajax in China relating to the academies and other business lines?

In terms of football, namely youth development will remain our main job here. We’ll keep dedicating to our partnership with Guangzhou R&F, as we are both ambitious and have aligned philosophies. We are confident that in 5 years, we can already see our goal of youth players, developed through the R&F/Ajax partnership, making their debut in the Chinese Super League, or even, in European professional football leagues.


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