• Denis Green

China Sports Business Weekly | 26th July

Here are the top China sports business news stories you need to know from this week, and my From the Top interview with Gary Twelvetree, Director of Marketing at Chelsea Football Club, about the club’s Asia strategy, recent tour to Japan, and next steps in Asia. 

Suning to Increase Investment in Sport PP Sports, a division of Suning, launched its three-year broadcasting partnership with the English Premier League. As one of the largest retailers in China, Suning promised more investment in the sports industry as part of its commercial strategy. In 2016, Chinese digital sports media company PP Sports obtained the exclusive broadcasting rights for the Premier League in China and Macau as part of a three-year deal reported at $700 million, starting from 2019-20. Read more on Sport Business (English) and Sina (Chinese)

Mailman Take: This record deal for China will finally launch this season, with the Premier League having been announced as this year’s number one league online. Several Premier League teams visited China this summer, providing a great opportunity for PP Sports to leverage their matches and drive subscriptions. We’re still waiting to see how this will integrate with Youku Sports, as well as sub-licensing options with iQiyi Sports.

Tottenham Hotspur and AIA Group Extend Partnership The English Premier League club announced an agreement with AIA Group Limited (AIA), one of the world’s leading life insurers, to extend their long-standing Official Partnership until the end of the 2026/27 season. The AIA brand will continue to appear on the front of the Club’s Men’s, Women’s and Academy teams’ shirts in all competitions. Read more on Tottenham Hotspur (English) and PP Sports (Chinese)

Mailman Take: The club has just wrapped up a very successful China Summer tour which included the AIA partnership extension, e-commerce launch on Tmall and WeChat, fan events, official fan music video, legend and player meet & greet sessions, and culminated in a sell-out match against Manchester United. One of the highlights of the tour was an entertaining match-up between 100 children and 3 Tottenham first team players, have a watch of the video on Weibo & YouTube


NBA 2K League Names Tencent as First Chinese Distribution Partner The NBA 2K League, the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) esports competition, has announced internet services provider Tencent as its first distribution partner in China. The deal, signed with Tencent Holdings Limited, will see the platform stream condensed games from this year’s NBA 2K League play-offs and finals across Tencent Sports, Tencent Video and Tencent News. Read more on SportsPro (English) and  Tencent Sports (Chinese)

Mailman Take: This one works well with the existing Tencent Sports relationship with the NBA, and Tencent’s expertise and dominant position in the gaming industry. They already operate the FIFA Online games in China and will aim to build a larger following of NBA 2K in China.

Alibaba to Provide Ticketing for Beijing 2022 The Beijing 2022 ticketing programme will harness Alibaba’s technological and data expertise, ensuring a fully digitally enabled ticketing programme and modern user experience that allows fans to purchase and redistribute tickets securely. Read more on Olympic.org (English) and Ecosports (Chinese) 


Mailman Take: With an event taking place in Beijing, there had to be a Chinese ticketing solution. This partnership with Alibaba will streamline the whole process with many expecting this to take place through the Alipay system, in the same way that UEFA plans to sell tickets ahead of EURO 2020. Ticketing processes have been a major barrier for sports events in China, so it’s great to see the Olympics proactively addressing this with an innovative solution.


Li Na Inducted in Tennis Hall of Fame Two-time Grand Slam winner Li Na became the first Chinese player to be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Together with Mary Pierce of France and Russian Yevgeny Kafelnikov as class of 2019, the iconic former Chinese star broke new ground once again by becoming the first-ever Asian member in the Hall of Fame since its founding 65 years ago. Read more on Xinhua (English) and Ecosports (Chinese)


Mailman Take: Very few athletes have changed the face of a sport as much as Li Na and this recognition is well deserved. Tennis though, like many other sports, is now trying to find its next Li Na, with attention turning to the US Open next month where there’s been significant success for Chinese juniors in this hard-court Grand Slam. 


GOAT Launches New App in China Now online sneaker marketplace GOAT is trying to capitalize on the global demand by launching a new app in China, its attempt to have a bigger footprint in a fast-growing market. Read more on Fortune (English) and Sina (Chinese) 


Iberia Becomes Official Sponsor of LaLiga in China Iberia and LaLiga have signed a sponsorship agreement whereby the airline becomes an official regional partner of the Spanish competition in China during the 2019/2020 season. Read more on LaLiga (English)


In Other News


Man City Deny Club Showed Disrespect in China Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola says claims the club has shown "disrespect" by ignoring fans on their tour of Asia is "far away from the reality". Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported that City had not engaged with local fans in China last week and shown "discrimination" towards local media. Read more on BBC (English) and Sohu (Chinese)


Mailman Take: This one really got out of control. It’s really a shame to see this as one of the biggest topics from the clubs’ China tours ahead of everything else. I feel sorry for Man City here and they should not let this individual story ruin what they achieved on a hugely positive trip to China. 


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From the Top


This week I spoke to Gary Twelvetree, Director of Marketing at Chelsea Football Club, about the club’s Asia strategy, recent tour to Japan, and next steps in Asia.


1. Chelsea was one of the first clubs to set up an international strategy, particularly in Asia, can you talk me through this strategy and how it’s been going?

Asia is a hugely important continent for us because it’s a growing market, and it’s also home to a number of commercial partners - Yokohama being a good example of that. More recently, we’ve understood we needed a separate strategy for China because it’s so different from other places in Asia. Our entire strategy is digital-first and local, and it’s about putting those two things together. 


2. Chelsea was the first football club to produce a studio show in China. How important is it to be first in China, and what are the risks that come with it?

I think it’s important and it’s also risky, I don’t think you can have one without the other. If you’re going to lead and be a leader, no matter what industry or business you’re in, it carries some risk with it. One of our values as a business is about being brave, and that’s one of the things as a club and brand we’ve shown for a long time. It’s part of our DNA to do things that are innovative. 

We’ve got to create content that appeals and connects to fans which makes them feel closer to the club and organisation. We always need to be ready for the next thing in China. We’ve got to be prepared to work fast and move fast, and somethings will fail. If it fails then we ensure it fails fast and we move on to the next thing. 


3. Douyin is a platform Chelsea has been very successful on. How has the club managed to work so well on this platform?

It’s been a really successful platform for us and we’re really pleased with the numbers we’ve been getting. Whatever platform we launch on we’ve got to do it wholeheartedly and invest in properly, it might still fail, but Douyin hasn't and we’re happy with that. 


We’re going to have some local content producers on-site at our training ground and I think this is the right approach. We need people on the ground at the training complex to help fans feel closer to the club, and this is the best way to do it. 


4. What can we expect to see from Chelsea in terms of digital and strategy next in Asia?

It will be more of the same approach, but different as the market grows and changes. We're very committed to our approach which is innovation and digital-first. We’ll be bringing new products and services to the market as they will, of course, be digital in nature. 


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Mailman is a global sports digital agency and marketing platform. We help global rights holders, athletes and brands build a successful business across China, Europe, and Southeast Asia. Learn more about our story here

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