• Denis Green

China Sports Business Weekly | 28th August

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

Here’s what’s been making the headlines this week: David Beckham launches on Douyin, Borussia Mönchengladbach merges with Ebbe Sand Soccer Academy, Zhang Weili Named on Forbes China Top 100 Celebrity List, Anta Sports post strong numbers, sports organisations remember Kobe and celebrate Chinese Valentine’s Day, and Bilibili wins Fall Guys publishing rights. 


In this week’s From The Top, we spoke with Matt Beyer, CEO of the East Asia Super League (EASL), the pan-regional basketball championship launching next October, about the 10-year FIBA deal, utilising digital, localisation strategies, online & offline plans, the future of live events, engaging new sponsors & commercial partners, and a 10-year outlook. 


Top Industry News


1) David Beckham Douyin Launch Becomes #1 Trend in China

This launch became the #1 trending topic on Douyin for five hours after the launch as his first video reached over 30M total views, and within 24 hours, his account reached 1.15M followers. Beckham coincided his launch with Chinese Valentine’s Day, which takes place on the 7th day of the 7th month of the Lunar Calendar each year. Beckham engaged fans in China during the launch with a platform-wide campaign, calling on them to participate in the #CallOutBeckham challenge and share or show anything relating to the number ‘7’ through video. Read more on Ecosports (Chinese)

2) BMG Merges with Ebbe Sand Academy in Shanghai Bundesliga Football Club Borussia Mönchengladbach (BMG) has merged with Shanghai-located Ebbe Sand Soccer Academy and forged a strong alliance to sustainably support the development of football in Shanghai. The Academy will be named the “Borussia Academy Shanghai”. BMG identified Ebbe Sand Soccer Academy as the right partner to start operations in Shanghai and both partners share the same philosophy and approach for sustainable football development. Read more on Beijing Youth Daily (Chinese)

3) Zhang Weili Named on the Forbes China Top 100 Celebrity List 2020 The current UFC Strawweight champion was named 27th on the 2020 Forbes China Celebrity List. Zhang Weili was also the highest-ranked athlete, with Wu Lei coming in at 57th, as the two famous sports stars were the only athletes to make the Top 100 List. Read more on Tencent (Chinese) 4) Anta Posts Strong Performance Through COVID-19 China's largest sportswear company posted revenue of $2.12B in the first half year of 2020, decreasing 1 percent year-on-year due to pandemic. Anta acquired Finland's Amer Sports in March 2019, following its acquisition of a number of global brands including Descente and Kolon Sport in recent years. Read more on Xinhua (English) and Xinhua (Chinese) 5) Formula One Shanghai Race Officially Off With the shortened Formula One season underway, the cancelation of the Shanghai 2020 race was not the most surprising news to surface. However, many local fans had hoped that the race could be the first major international sports event to be staged in China since February. The announcement became a hot topic on Chinese social media, with related news generating over 10M views on Weibo by Wednesday morning. Read more on China Daily (English) and Sina (Chinese) 6) BVB’s Successful China Virtual Summer Tour The club’s head of China, Benjamin Wahl spoke with SportBusiness all about the recent virtual summer tour of China, including fan events, incorporating sponsors, kit launches, BVB DNA, and his ultimate goal. Read the interview here (English) In Other News All That Matters Launches Latest Speaker Line Up with Famous TV Show Stars Jasper and his team are back, virtually, for another annual edition of All That Matters. The very latest speaker batch includes a number of industry leaders from FIFA, McLaren Racing and Youtube, and also includes some guest appearances from the stars of the legendary TV series Sesame Street. Read here for more info and who exactly is speaking from Sesame Street. Happy Birthday, Kobe The late Kobe Bryant’s birthday was celebrated by millions across China. We’ve hand-picked a few of the most popular campaigns which commemorated the legend.

  • Lakers - #8 and #24 represent Kobe. The Lakers launched a "Post for Kobe" campaign on Weibo to encourage fans to post what they want to say to Kobe on Weibo at 8:24AM on August 24. The Lakers’ post, released at the time, received 10K engagement and 8.3M impressions.

  • Panini America - took fans on a journey to relive Kobe's greatness, using cards from the 2017-18 Panini Eminence series to depict the greatest highlights of his career.

  • NBA - a video of Kobe’s career highlights and a Weibo post with hashtags of #tributeKobe with 2B reads and #FORKOBE with 930M reads.

  • Nike - a video of Kobe featuring how the Mamba mentality influences others. The video has 7K likes, 490 comments and 30K reposts.

  • Li Yifeng - the Chinese celebrity is a famous Kobe fan and posted on Weibo to wish Kobe a happy birthday - 478K likes, 43K comments and 121K reposts.

  • Weibo Sports - Popular hashtags emerged, such as #Kobeisinmyyouth with 50M reads, #happybirthdayKobe with 130M reads, and #824Kobeday with 130M reads.

7/7 Creatives Chinese Valentine’s Day was celebrated this week, the 7th day of the 7th month in the Lunar Calendar, with a number of sports organisations and platforms engaging their fans. Here are a few creative executions:

  • Beckham - coincided his launch with Chinese Valentine’s Day, which takes place on the 7th day of the 7th month of the Lunar Calendar each year.

  • CBA - encouraged fans to vote for the “best couple on the court”. The post generated 2.5K likes.

  • NHL - launched a vote of “which is the better duel of dad and daughter?”. 

  • Tottenham Hotspur - utilised the 7/7 to promote its upcoming live stream and rewarded a super fan with a gift.

  • UFC - posted a video on Weibo captioning “When a single friend calls you on 7/7”.

  • FIFA World Cup - launched a series of romantic movie posters linked to 'player couples', this included Messi & Aguero, Ribery & Robben, and Kaka & Ronaldo.

  • DRL - a romantic video featuring two strangers who share the same passion of flying First Person View (FPV) drones. 

  • Chelsea - trivia series - ‘Can you guess your loved ones shadow?’ Share with us your favorite.

  • BVB - cartoon series, how to get rid of your loneliness during Qixi

  • BMG - share your love story with us for a chance to win BMG merchandise.

Esports News Bilibili Secures Fall Guys Publishing Rights in China The publishing rights are for the mobile version of the popular Battle Royale game Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout in Mainland China. Developed by British firm Mediatronic, Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout could become the first non-anime-style hit game to be published by Bilibili, while the company plans to release 11 new games in the coming months. Read more on Esports Observer (English) and Tencent (Chinese)

From The Top


Matt Beyer, CEO of the East Asia Super League (EASL)


1. The 10-year FIBA deal takes the EASL to the next level. How did this partnership come about and how will you work together?


The FIBA global imprimatur cements EASL’s strong credibility and backing for all our efforts as we build our regional championship competition moving forward. The partnership with FIBA wasn’t something that happened overnight. We have operated premier pre-season tournaments for the past three years working to prove concept and build trust.

Negotiations regarding the home-and-away league model came following our inaugural event, “The Super 8”, in September 2017 when my partner Henry Kerins and I first met FIBA leadership at FIBA’s House of Basketball headquarters in Mies outside of Geneva, Switzerland, beginning discussions on the concept. What followed were a series of meetings over the following years in various places across the world - -  including Beirut, Shenzhen, Xi’an - -  to work on the specifics of the deal.

Our most recent event in 2019, “The Terrific 12”, had sellout live audiences every day and was watched by more than 117 million cumulative fans worldwide. The success of our events, featuring elite clubs from the top leagues in East Asia, won buy-ins from major stakeholders and now we’re set to launch and operate the region’s first and only club basketball championship league under a multi-year exclusive FIBA agreement. 

2. East Asia has a burgeoning digital economy. How will you utilise digital to amplify your IP and engage as many new fans as possible?

Over the past few months, we've launched two new digital content series. Analyzing, tweaking and producing the content has been incredibly valuable to understand more about the evolving digital landscape and how to utilize it to amplify our IP and engage as many new fans as possible. Thus far, our two new digital content series BALLERIFIC and Fresh in Macau have reached more than 25 million viewers and generated more than 3 million engagements in just a little over two months. We've also seen a massive uptick in followers during that time. 

Never before has there been a regional platform that brings the best basketball clubs together for the ultimate competition. That's been our platform, and we've taken that core value and applied it to our digital content. Our digital content is focused on engaging stars and fans from around the region and bringing them together through EASL. Moving forward, we will be producing and aggregating on-court and off-court basketball content from across the region year-round, serving as the “go-to” hub

for both avid and casual fans.

3. Localisation will be key while operating in different countries. What's your strategy for ensuring a local product, online & offline, for each country?

EASL believes strongly in forming strong local relationships, and specific local marketing strategies for each of our target markets – part of the “Terrific Together” concept of mutually beneficial long-term relationships with our local partners. Part of this is ensuring we have boots on the ground in each of our primary markets. Besides our headquarters in Hong Kong, we have office locations and key staff in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Tokyo, Seoul, Manila and Macao.   

Our localization strategy started with strong relationships with the top professional basketball leagues and clubs, as well as with many popular players, in each primary market in which we operate – greater China, Japan, Korea, and the Philippines.  These relationships have enabled us to tap into the core fan bases of each market, not only by involving top teams in our previous regional tournaments, but also by showcasing the top local players in our various digital content series.

To expand our awareness and fan base, we distribute and promote our content across a range of media specific to each core market.  In Mainland China we work with major digital media such as Weibo, Kuaishou, Douyin, Tencent, Youku, so on – as well as several regional TV channels. 

We have engaged a creative agency in Japan to create and adapt our content specifically to cater to Japanese interests and tastes, and this has grown well via the Japan platforms of Instagram and Twitter in recent months. We have also featured our content on the Japan B.LEAGUE’s official social media channels, including broadcast of our live games from our previous tournaments. We’re in the process of substantive discussions with Japan’s leading digital platforms for featuring our original content series, as well as our broadcast rights for the upcoming EASL season.

We have close relationships with Philippine media, including the sports heavyweight TV5, for distribution of our news and content there, and have strong and growing engagement with Filipino fans via our global social media platforms. 

EASL has a multi-year partnership with Naver, Korea’s leading platform site, which has broadcast our games and featured our news coverage. We’ve also worked extensively with leading Korean sports media, including the foremost basketball platform JumpBall. We are in the process of strengthening our footprint in the Korean media market.

4. How have you had to adapt your plans during COVID-19, and even post-COVID, as there still remains some uncertainties on how the future of live events will look?

When the virus started to spread in Asia in January, EASL instituted a work from home policy that has continued to present day. We’ve shifted operations to a set of committees meeting daily on Zoom in order to keep employees safe, and we’ve maintained a smooth and constant dialogue between colleagues with this committee system. We may never go back to tradition office work again.

The outbreak and the spread of the virus, as you can imagine, has interfered. However, we’re working remotely and diligently to iron out all the details in the deals with participating leagues with a greater level of focus. We have colleagues on the ground in every region to push forward and ensure we're progressing in the best way possible, who can meet face-to-face, if necessary, with the stakeholders in market.

We’ve also found new ways to engage with our fans in terms of basketball content. Over the past few months, we’ve focused on creating new and exciting digital video series featuring top basketball stars and KOLs in the region –


- BALLERIFIC:  Is a roundtable series featuring players and KOLs from across all EASL regions to speak in-depth on their lives — both on and off the court — for fans as well as compete in quirky athletic showdowns against one another.

- Fresh in Macau: An exclusive mini-documentary series starring top players like Lance Stephenson and the San Miguel Beermen. The series weaves exciting on-court training footage from last year’s The Terrific 12 with a behind-the-scenes exploration of Macau’s vibrant culture.

In just two short months, we've had over 25 million views and over 3 million engagements across all our platforms, having featured over 30 of the region's top basketball players and KOLs on our shows with cumulative followings over 3 million. We will be launching new original content series in mid-September as well.

5. How do you plan to engage new sponsors & commercial partners across the region, and what can the EASL offer / provide which no other basketball IP can?

EASL offers several unique value propositions to commercial partners seeking to reach the massive base of basketball fans across the East Asia region, now up to nearly 500 million and counting across a population of over 2 billion, with an exciting new pan-regional competition. We will tap into regional rivalries while determining the region’s basketball champion. We fill the market gap between high-level but far away leagues like the NBA on the one hand, and popular but somewhat lower levels of domestic league competition on the other. 

EASL will showcase the “Best of the Best”, the best teams from the best leagues in this region, as well as best-in-class competition, event, and broadcast production standards.   Another key aspect of our offering to commercial partners is our reach and flexibility: we can provide a one-stop shop to brands seeking to reach consumers across all of East Asia’s key markets, or customize activation by market through our domestic media and marketing relationships. We can do so year-round with our EASL Digital content that serves as a hub for basketball in East Asia; and/or with a focus on the live games and their broadcasts during the five-month league season launching October 2021.

We plan to go to market aggressively with this strong range of marketing and media assets in the fourth quarter of this year, one year out from our official league launch.  We are targeting like-minded marketing partners who share our values in terms of innovation and premium quality, and are either among the leaders in their respective categories, or emerging brands with whom we can grow rapidly together in the coming years.  

Lastly, “Terrific Together” is more than just our tagline. We strive for full collaboration with our partners, and mutually beneficial long-term relationships.

6. The FIBA deal is 10 years. Where do you see the EASL 10 years down the line in terms of growth and impact?

Our mission has always been to create the premier basketball competition and entertainment experience in East Asia; while elevating the sport in the region. 

We’re launching the eight-team format league in 2021 and plan to expand to 16 teams by 2023. By 2025, our vision is to become one of the world’s top three professional basketball leagues. 

In ten years' time, we anticipate further expansion in terms of not only competition, but also content creation. The previous EASL events have been incredibly successful, but have only started to scratch the surface in terms of impact - we saw week long tournaments garner more than 117 million cumulative viewers, hundreds of media reporters in attendance from around the world and thousands of media articles generated. 

We want to continue to work with domestic leagues and media partners to achieve great things. EASL will become the aspirational next level for top clubs and leagues to determine one regional champion.

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