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  • Writer's pictureDenis Green

China Sports Business Weekly | 27th September

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 Owen Leed, Commercial & Communications Director at the Badminton World Federation (BWF), where we chat through the China Open, competing for fans, how to resonate with millennials and Generation-Z, China strategy and participation.

Wanda Group to Title Sponsor Diamond League for 10 Years The owners of Infront will become the new title sponsor of the Diamond League, from 2020. The IAAF launched a renewed search for a new title sponsor for the Diamond League two years ago, with Samsung having been the League's previous title sponsor from 2010 to 2012. Read more on Xinhua (English) and China News (Chinese)

BWF China Open Concludes in Changzhou As part of the HSBC Badminton World Federation (BWF) World Tour, the 2019 VICTOR China Open took place at the Olympic Sports Center Xincheng Gymnasium in Jiangsu, China from 17 to 22 September 2019 with a total prize of $1 million. Chen Qingchen/Jia Yifan won the gold medal for China in the women's doubles final and, in the mixed doubles, top seed Zheng Siwei/Huang Yaqiong of China also claimed gold. Read more on Xinhua (English) and Xinhua (Chinese)

  • Mailman Take: It may surprise a few people, but badminton is the most participated sport in China and it’s no wonder the country produces so many gold medalists.

China Sales Elevate Nike Shares to All-Time High First-quarter earnings and sales topped analysts’ expectations, as investments to sell more sneakers and apparel in its stores and on its website showed signs of paying off. Nike has kept a strong foothold in China and doubled down on the region, opening its first House of Innovation store, which sells one-of-a-kind merchandise and personalised gear, in Shanghai last year. Read more on CNBC (English) and Sina (Chinese)

UFC Hosts Fan Meet & Greet with Local Heroes The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) held a fan meet & greet at the recently-opened Performance Institute Shanghai. Over 400 fans turned up for a chance to listen to and meet their idols, most notably current UFC champion and local hero Zhang Weili. Watch the fan event video here

  • Mailman Take: The success of this event shows the power of having local heroes present for an emerging sport looking to grow its fanbase in China. As a very patriotic country, China loves to see its very own win, especially in its own backyard. Allowing fans access to athletes is key, and the UFC does this very well.

A packed house of 400+ fans at the UFC Performance Institute Shanghai

Wang Nan Named on IAAF Council Chinese Athletics Association vice-director Wang Nan has become the first Asian woman to be elected as a council member of the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF). Wang is the fourth Chinese to become a council member, following Lou Dapeng, Luo Chaoyi, and Du Zhaocai. The elections were held at the 52nd IAAF Congress ahead of the World Athletics Championships in Doha. Read more on Xinhua (English) and Netease Sports (Chinese)

PGA Tour Series-China Cancels Hong Kong Event Golf’s PGA Tour Series-China event in Hong Kong has been cancelled due to continued unrest in the country, meaning its 2019 season will draw to a close at the Macau Championship taking place from October 10-13. Read more on SportBusiness (English)

  • Mailman Take: It’s a shame to see sporting events called off. Sport can often be used as a safe place and a vehicle to promote positivity. Let’s hope no more events are cancelled.

Red Star Macalline Sponsors Women’s China Open Chinese furniture retailer Red Star Macalline Home Group has been named title sponsor of China LPGA Tour golf tournament, the Women’s China Open. The Open has been running since 2006 and is the China LPGA Tour’s flagship event. The 2019 edition takes place at the Xiamen Oriental Golf and Country Club from December 5-8, and has a prize pool of $300,000. Read more on SportBusiness (English) and Sina (Chinese)

In Other News

Reality Check for Fosun as Thomas Cook Collapses Fosun Group, which also owns English Premier League club Wolverhampton Wanderers, is set to lose £1 billion in the collapse of global travel company Thomas Cook. Fosun International was the biggest single shareholder, owning 18 percent of the group. Read more on Bloomberg (English) and Sina (Chinese)

  • Mailman Take: A very bad day for Fosun. Just a week ago, reports were linking Fosun with plans to sell 20% of Wolves in order to help propel the club up the league table. This latest news will do very little to instill any further confidence between the club’s fans and its owners.

KAWO Release WeChat and Weibo Insights Report Social media management and technology platform KAWO spent 6 weeks analysing 20 million data points to answer every marketer's top questions and reveal the secrets of success of WeChat and Weibo. Read the report on KAWO (English) & (Chinese)

  • Mailman Take: This is an absolute must-read for anyone interested in China’s social media. Alex Duncan and his team spent hours upon end painstakingly analysing data showing exactly how to get the best out of China's two largest social channels. Great job, KAWO!


From the Top

This week I spoke to Owen Leed, Commercial & Communications Director at the Badminton World Federation (BWF)

1. The 2019 China Open finished last Sunday in Changzhou. How was this year bigger / better than in previous years? Any highlights? The VICTOR China Open 2019 celebrated its 12th year in Changzhou and it was another fantastic tournament. The Changzhou organising committee continues to do a great job to promote badminton in the city. Crowd figures were again healthy and the on-court action was highlighted by the return of Rio 2016 Olympic champion Carolina Marin. Marin achieved one of the greatest comebacks in badminton – and perhaps all sport – by defending her China Open crown less than eight months after a career-threatening injury. The Olympic champion, who suffered an ACL injury in the final of the Indonesia Masters in January, pulled off a stunning turnaround in Changzhou, defeating world No.4 Tai Tzu Ying in the final. [READ MORE]

2. Badminton is the most participated sport in China, producing many local champions, particularly in doubles. Despite the huge local success, do you feel the sport sometimes doesn't get the recognition it deserves from a global perspective? Our 2018 research has shown that outside of China, badminton is also experiencing large-scale growth. The fanbase is estimated to be 681 million across 7 regions, based on sample surveys conducted in 21 badminton markets globally. This is an increase of around 37% since 2015 on those same 21 markets. For 2018, the survey added 15 additional markets, increasing the badminton fanbase by 54 million, bringing the total number of badminton fans in 35 markets to 735 million fans across 7 regions. There are 339 million active badminton participants who played badminton at least once a week estimated across the 35 countries studied.

Our digital and TV coverage is the biggest it has ever been and with superstars like Pusarla V Sindhu, who is ranked 13th in Forbes’ Highest-Paid Female Athletes list for 2019 with $5.5 million in earnings, badminton is increasingly becoming part of the conversation.

3. Football and basketball dominate the headlines in China. How do you cut through the noise and tell your story to current and potential fans? Our simple strategy for both our anglophone and Chinese audiences is to strengthen the bond between our fans and our athletes. And this includes converting the huge number of participants we have globally into everyday fans. One area where we are behind is leveraging influencers and utilising athletes as ambassadors to get more people talking about badminton. This is something we are working very hard on at the moment and are looking forward to unveiling some exciting new projects very soon.

4. How do you plan to make the game resonate more with the millennial audiences / the Gen Z generation? One guiding principle that dictates our development strategy is to put a racket in the hands of as many children as possible. Our flagship development programme, Shuttle Time, has been operational since 2012 and offers school teachers access to free resources, training, and equipment, which supports the teaching of enjoyable, safe and inclusive badminton activities to children aged 5-15 years old. Shuttle Time lessons are designed to provide children with a positive image of badminton through many opportunities to have fun, engage with others and experience success. It is now being implemented in 135 countries.

One barrier to participation for young people was access to appropriate facilities in nations where indoor sports infrastructure was not readily available. Our solution has been to launch AirBadminton in conjunction with the launch of our new outdoor shuttlecock, the AirShuttle. While playing badminton outdoors is not a new concept, the idea of the new outdoor shuttle will give people a better introduction or better experience with badminton. The hope is to get more people, to play more badminton, in more places around the world [READ MORE].

5. Does the business model for China differ from other markets? We acknowledge that China is clearly our strongest market in terms of participation and fans. And while the development strategy in China is clearly different to a lot of other countries, China still holds the most potential in initiating new concepts that we feel will be effective in growing the sport all around the world. We are in the process of working with our Global Development Partner, HSBC, to deliver outdoor badminton courts across the Guangzhou region for community usage. The community aspect of badminton is very strong in many of our prime markets such as China, India and Indonesia, and if we can start to tap into this cultural and community connection, we feel it will open up more avenues for business and growth.

6. Will badminton continue to be the most participated sport in China? How do you start to close the gap on viewership with NBA / Premier League? One thing that we have to our advantage in building our fanbase, and potentially competing with the eyeballs of the NBA and the Premier League in China, is that badminton is a traditional sport and we have an existing, booming, participation group of around 149.4 million. That is 149.4 million people who actively pick up a racket and play badminton. Granted, not all of these are currently active consumers of our broadcast and actively engage in badminton conversations.

But we much rather prefer to convert ‘active participants’ into ‘active fans’ than having to convert fans into players in a way football and other sports are attempting to do. As we start to build our digital presence and fully utilise the capabilities of digital and social media platforms in China, as well as bringing the athlete-fan relationship close together, we feel we will start to see a shift in our fan numbers compared to our competitors.


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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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Tom Latham
Tom Latham
Mar 27, 2020

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