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  • Writer's pictureDenis Green

China Sports Business Weekly | 2nd June

Hello Industry Friends, here is the very latest news and insights from China. 📰 Headlines: Road To UFC 2 delights fans, Xi calls for a better sporting environment for kids, Wuxi set for World Taekwondo Championships in 2025, UFC’s Asian talent pathway could bring coveted commercial growth, Zhang and Wang prevail in winning day for China at Roland Garros, is pickleball now China’s trendiest sport?, the brand guide to WeChat, Douyin, Xiaohongshu and other platforms. 🎙️ In this week’s From The Top, we spoke with Kevin Chang, SVP and Head of Asia, UFC, about the recent Road To UFC 2 event in Shanghai, the development of Asian fighters, the importance of the Performance Institute, using REMI for the first time, and what’s to come in 2023.


🗞️ Top Industry News Road To UFC Season 2 Brings Asia’s MMA Best to the Forefront A packed-out UFC Performance Institute (PI) Shanghai welcomed the best MMA prospects from across Asia last weekend, and the Road To UFC Season 2 opening round did not disappoint. Chinese fighters claimed an impressive eight wins in total with seven of those trained at the Shanghai PI. Read more on UFC (English) and Ecosports (Chinese) 💡 Mailman Take: This event was worth the wait, with Covid having prevented the phenomenal UFC Performance Institute Shanghai from hosting live events, until now. This was proof of why the UFC has invested in China, an event four years in the making, bringing the best MMA talent from across Asia together and putting on one hell of a show. Road To UFC 2 has hit every nail on the head so far. Bring on the semi-finals!


Xi Calls for Better Sports Environment for Kids Chinese President Xi Jinping called for a better sports environment for kids across China after watching some children playing basketball and jumping rope during his visit to a primary school in the capital, Beijing, on Wednesday ahead of International Children's Day, which fell on 1st June. Read more on CGTN (English) and CCTV (Chinese) Wuxi Set for World Taekwondo Championships in 2025 The Chinese city has regained hosting rights to the World Taekwondo Championships after seeing off competition from three rival bidders for the 2025 event. Wuxi was elected with 14 of 26 eligible votes at a World Taekwondo Council meeting. Read more on SportBusiness (English) and Global Times (Chinese) UFC’s Asian Talent Pathway Could Bring Coveted Commercial Growth The UFC's senior vice president in Asia, Kevin Chang, needs more local talent to fuel commercial growth in Asia. That's why his promotion is doing the job itself. SportBusiness spoke with Kevin about the organisation's growth in Asia in recent years. Read more on SportBusiness (English) Zhang, Wang Prevail in Winning Day for China at Roland Garros Chinese tennis achieved another milestone on Thursday as Zhang Zhizhen broke into the men's singles third round at the French Open for the first time while his compatriot Wang Xinyu also booked a ticket in the women's last 32. Read more on China Daily (English) and Xinhua (Chinese) 💡 Mailman Take: All eyes will be on Zhang Zhizhen and Wang Xinyu as they continue to fly the flag for China at Roland Garros. In what is set to be China’s biggest year in tennis for a long time, both in terms of player accomplishment and home events, expectations have never been higher. The pressure is on. China Unveils Web3 Ambition, Signalling the End of Crypto Winter China is softening its stance in what looks like a modified outlook on digital asset investing and trading in the country. Following an interesting chain of developments, Beijing has unveiled a white paper to foster innovation and advance development within the web3 industry. Read more on Campaign Asia (English) and Tencent (Chinese)


🤔 Opinion Is Pickleball Now China’s Trendiest Sport? Pickleball may be about to take its place as the hottest sport on Chinese social media, with Xiaohongshu seeing an influx of Pickleball-related posts since April, with total views for #pickleball climbing up to 2.5m as of May 31. Sports and fashion influencers have been clambering to snap pictures at the pickleball court in carefully curated athleisure looks, pickleball racket in hand. Read more on DAO (English) The Brand Guide To WeChat, Douyin, Xiaohongshu and Other Platforms A recently published report by Chozan titled “China E-Commerce, Marketing and Digital Space 2023” provides several key marketing insights on how a brand can stand out on these platforms, which have been summarised below. Read more on Jing Daily (English)


🎮 Esports Can Peacekeeper Elite Make Educational Gaming Cool? Building on the recent success of its campus-themed metaverse Oasis College, Peacekeeper Elite is now bringing Beijing’s Temple of Heaven to its digital community. From May 24, players can check out the digitised version of the World Heritage site within Oasis World – Peacekeeper’s metaverse where players explore and socialise. Read more on DAO (English)


🎙️ From The Top 🗣️ Kevin Chang, SVP and Head of Asia, UFC 1. How did it feel finally being able to stage a large-scale UFC event at the Performance Institute Shanghai? What were the highlights? It felt amazing, I’m so proud of how our team pulled together to make this a huge success. Road to UFC was our first event back in China since 2019 and it surpassed our expectations in every way: from the utilisation of the Performance Institute as a purpose-built arena, to the performances put on by the top MMA prospects in Asia, to the very first REMI production in combat sports – a truly memorable weekend. Besides the actual highlights? Tsuruya’s grappling masterclass, Xiaolong’s gutsy split decision victory, Taiyilake’s nasty standing elbow KO, Li Kaiwen backing up his pre-fight banter, Danasoe’s flying knee! The fights were amazing, and these guys came to put on a show. It’s encouraging to see how much interest in this tournament has grown from last year to this year. Our fans in Asia were buzzing about it from the moment we announced, and there’s so much momentum for the semi-finals because of how the opening round was delivered. 2. We’re seeing more and more quality fighters from Asia. Just how important was RTU2 for growing and activating across the continent? It’s crucial. For a number of years, we let talent in the region develop on its own, pulling them up from regional promotions straight into the UFC. We found out that these prospects, while champions or top contenders on the regional scene, weren’t able to showcase their full potential. They arrived too early and needed a stepping stone, particularly the younger athletes who possessed the physical attributes, but were less experienced and exposed to the level of international competition. It’s a big step up to the UFC from any promotion in the world, especially in Asia where the sport has had less time to develop. Road to UFC has enabled us to bridge that gap and offer a clear pathway into the UFC, but not before running the table against the best prospects in Asia. These fighters finally have the platform they need to build a following and maximise their chances for success in the Octagon. 3. RTU2 saw 8 Chinese winners, including 7 trained at the Shanghai Performance Institute. Can you expand on just how important the PI has been for these fighters? The UFC Academy is our primary means to develop Asian talent. For the past few years, the tight border controls have made it impossible for us to recruit from the broader region, but that is changing quickly. The next time we host the UFC Combine in early 2024, I suspect that several athletes from outside of China will be invited to join and make the cut for a full-ride scholarship. What we saw in the opening round, when almost every UFC Academy athlete advanced to the semi-finals, is that given time to develop and do a proper camp at the Performance Institute, they were all well prepared for the challenge – skills were there, cardio was there, weight was on point. You may remember last season when we had massive disruptions and moved the entire camp last minute right before the tournament started. There was a big difference this year in terms of mentality and outcomes. It really shows how much of an impact the Performance Institute and world-class team of coaches and trainers can have on the development of a fighter if given the right environment, and it’s very encouraging to see such tangible results. That said, it’s still a long road ahead, let’s see how they do in the next round. 4. It was the UFC’s first time using REMI (remote integration model) – was this successful and how does it make the broadcast process easier for the UFC, which has events around the world? Yes, the broadcast was nearly flawless, nobody could tell there was no OB Van outside or that most of our production team were thousands of miles away. Except for camera ops, audio engineers, a handful of technical staff and the front-of-house production team, our production crew were all in Las Vegas. I often tell people that the Performance Institute was “purpose-built” for us to host live events, and what I mean is that the technological groundwork for live event production was laid out in the building phase and a big part of our strategy to deliver more locally relevant content to the region. The Performance Institute is directly connected via fibre to our master control rooms at the APEX in Las Vegas. Unlike the other major sports leagues, the UFC produces all of its own events, and provides the feed to each of our broadcast partners around the world. Successfully integrating REMI gives us the opportunity to utilise the same best-in-class production team but not have them travel all the way over, which has obvious benefits given how jam-packed our international schedule is. We can offer a consistent product and not compromise on the quality of the broadcast. Road to UFC has established a foundation that may completely change the model for how we produce our international shows going forward. 5. 2023 is set to be a big year for the UFC in Asia, what more can we expect to see this year? The commitment we’ve made and the blueprint we follow continues to build on itself. In our 30th year as the premier brand in combat sports, we will continue to push the boundaries of human potential in the sport by making investments to develop talent, we will continue to tell the fighter’s stories and build stars, and we will continue to make the UFC accessible to our passionate fans, whether that’s in the form of experiencing a live event, or watching a clip that has gone viral, or joining a masterclass, or the countless other authentic touchpoints we offer. We’ll soon announce our next event in Asia as well as exciting news about our new Mass Participation project, fighter tours, viewing parties and other initiatives around the region. Expect to see more “HOLY SHIT!” moments in 2023!


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