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  • Writer's pictureDenis Green

China Sports Business Weekly | 6th October

Hello Industry Friends, here is the very latest news and insights from China.

📰 Headlines: 13-year-old Cui becomes gold medallist, China to host two 2024 Diamond League events, Chinese athletics picks up pace, Yao Ming sorry for cancelling press conference, Asian Games opening ceremony dazzles, Asian Games spur AI photo trend on Chinese social media, Super Golden Week provides economic boost to country, and esports relishes the spotlight at Asian Games.

🎤 In this week’s From The Top, we spoke with Matt Beyer, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of East Asia Super League (EASL), about China’s recent men’s team basketball losses, how they can turn it around, the future of EASL, working more closely with Chinese teams, and the growth of village basketball.

EASL’s 2023-24 season tips off next Weds, October 11, and features eight of the top pro basketball teams from East Asia – from the Japan B.LEAGUE, the Korean Basketball League, Chinese Taipei’s P. LEAGUE+, and the Philippine Basketball Association.


🗞️ Top Industry News Skateboarder Cui, 13, Becomes China's Youngest Asian Games Gold Medallist

Cui Chenxi became China's youngest Asian Games gold medallist after the 13-year-old skateboarder won the women's street event on day four of competition in Hangzhou. Cui took gold ahead of compatriot Zeng Wenhui, 18, with Japanese 16-year-old Miyu Ito taking bronze. Read more on Reuters (English) and CCTV (Chinese)

China to Host Opening Two Events in 2024 Diamond League

The 2024 Diamond League will begin its 15-stop season with two meets in China, in Xiamen and Shanghai, in April while Brussels will stage the two-day season finale in September. Last year's Diamond League was also scheduled to have 15 meets but the Shanghai stop was cancelled after COVID-19 restrictions caused delays in the renovation of the venue. Read more on Reuters (English) and CCTV.sports (Chinese)

‘Be Water, My Friend’: China’s First UFC Champion Channels Her Inner Bruce Lee

A decade ago, Zhang Weili was handing out flyers to rushing commuters in front of her local subway station. Now she’s considered one of the best women’s mixed-martial arts fighters in history. Zhang, born in China’s northern Hebei province, is her country’s first and only champion in US-based promotion the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). Read more on CNN (English)

Chinese Athletics Picks Up the Pace

Landing 19 gold, 11 silver and nine bronze medals, the Chinese track and field team once again proved its dominance at the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou. And with Team China's veteran stars still in their prime, a number of breakthrough performances by a younger generation of athletes bodes well for the future. Read more on China Daily (English)

Yao Ming Sorry for ‘Cancelling’ China Basketball Press Conference

The NBA legend took ‘responsibility’ as the men’s national team initially failed to speak to media after the defeat. Captain Zhao Jiwei and his coach Aleksandar Djordjevic eventually return from athletes’ village and apologised to fans for performance. Read more on SCMP (English)

China's Tech Giants Take Center Stage at Asian Games After Prolonged Crackdown: Report

Alibaba's involvement in the Asian Games presents a valuable opportunity for the company to enhance its reputation and engage with various figures. Read more on Live Mint (English)

China's Xi Opens Hangzhou Asian Games, Ceremony Dazzles

China's President opened the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou during a spectacular and at times raucous ceremony, which organisers hope will lift the mood in a nation struggling with an economic slump. Spectators in the city's 80k capacity stadium let out a huge roar as Xi was introduced and walked in to sit with visiting dignitaries. Read more on Reuters (English) and Xinhua (Chinese)

China is World's "Most Relevant Sports Event Organiser", says Samaranch at Hangzhou 2022

Praise has been heaped on China by International Olympic Committee (IOC) vice-president Juan Antonio Samaranch and member Uğur Erdener for the country's staging of the Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games. Samaranch was present at a banquet held by Xi before the Opening Ceremony which included the likes of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, making his first visit to China since 2004. Read more on Inside The Games (English) and Xinhua (Chinese) Lululemon Finds Wellbeing in China 18% Higher Than Global Average

Mainland China is one of the happiest among Lululemon’s global markets, according to a new report from the sports retailer. Lululemon published its third annual Global Wellbeing Report as part of its ongoing contributions to mental health and wellbeing advocacy. Read more on DAO (English) and The Beijing News (Chinese)

Asian Games Spur AI Photo Trend on Chinese Social Media

China is enjoying a much-needed boost to the national mood following a summer of sluggish economic growth. While many are tuning into their favourite sporting disciplines on television or the video-sharing platform Douyin, AI developers are coming up with new ways for consumers to immerse themselves in the national celebration. Read more on DAO (English)


🤔 Opinion

From Cultural Clout to Edutainment, China’s Xiaohongshu is the Top App for Chinese Travelers

Many affluent Chinese travelers, defined by McKinsey as those with a monthly household income exceeding $5.2k, continue to exhibit a strong interest in EU destinations. But more importantly, how are Chinese travelers choosing where to go and what activities to do at these destinations? For many, these answers are sourced through one app: Xiaohongshu. Read more on Jing Daily (English)

China’s ‘Super Golden Week’ Breaks Records Amid Mounting Economic Challenges

This year, China’s National Day holiday coincided with the Mid-Autumn Festival. Starting September 29, the eight-day ‘Super Golden Week’ is this year’s most popular holiday. Not only has the number of travelers hit a record high, the tourism economy has received a significant boost. Read more on Jing Daily (English)


🎮 Esports

China Storm to First Ever Asian Games Esports Gold

China won the first gold esports medal in Asian Games history in Hangzhou by beating Malaysia in the smartphone multiplayer battle game “Arena of Valor”, to delight fans in the world’s biggest esports market. Esports is making its debut as a medal event in this edition of the Asian Games, as the gaming sector pushes its case for Olympic inclusion. Read more on Reuters (English) and The Paper (Chinese)

China's Esports Potential Grows, With Degree Courses and Hotels Catering to Lucrative Market

The world’s second largest economy is home to some of the top-ranked players and largest esports companies globally. China now has 487m esports gamers, according to the China Esports Industry Report from January to June 2023. Read more on CNA (English)

China Hosts Esports’ Biggest Moment with Tencent at the Wheel

Hundreds of elite gamers are descending upon Hangzhou to represent their countries at the 19th Asian Games. The once-in-four-years event, effectively a regional Olympics, is the first time that competitive video games will be eligible for medals. Tencent has a hand in making or publishing four of the seven multiplayer titles that will be contested as esports. Read more on Bloomberg (English) and Tencent (Chinese)


🎤 From The Top

Matt Beyer, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of East Asia Super League (EASL)

1. The Chinese men’s national team, historically a source of pride, is in the doldrums after several defeats against the Philippines, Chinese Taipei, and others. What led to this, and how damaging is it for Chinese basketball?

There have been a variety of growing pains as China’s team sports system transitions from a system dominated by sports institutes run by the government to talent being developed by professional teams’ youth systems, schools and other organizations. This change has been underway over the past couple decades.

The 2008 Olympic team that boasted several current and former NBA players was really the tail end of talent developed by the state system. What we’re seeing now is the product of the new system. China has become a much wealthier country and people are enjoying a much higher standard of living, which allows for more casual sports participation. But finding footing at the professional level in team sports has been difficult, because most families would still rather have their children have a shot at strong professional careers than try being a full-time athlete who may not succeed professionally.

China has a large population base, but participation in sports in a serious fashion in formative years – outside of professional training systems – always comes secondary to children’s duties in the classroom. Limited numbers of serious talent in the age range key for basketball development – middle and high school – render a thin talent pool at the elite level.

In addition, coaching resources need to be bolstered and families need to see coaching as a serious profession. There need to be job opportunities for coaches in private companies, schools and community organizations. Without strong coaches, there will be no robust talent pool. The recent performance of Team China could be a wake-up call or could be the sign of more decline on the horizon.

2. What does the path back to leadership in East Asian basketball look like? What must the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) focus on to rebuild?

There are various measures to be considered at the grassroots and professional levels. High-level coaching and organized competition needs to be accessible to youths 12-to-18 years old.

Right now, there is a vast amount of organized competition for young children, but sports are seen as a distraction for middle and high school students. This is when players are in their key development years. This renders a very small talent pool for Team China, the CBA and other professional basketball leagues seeking Chinese talent.

The question is how do academics and sports co-exist? It is one that government and other stakeholders have been considering for some time.

In my opinion, the CBA needs to establish a new legacy in the wake of the recent Team China performances. It could establish a strong five-year plan, which includes international competition and exchanges among coaches to learn and adopt best practices. This would be similar to what Japan has done in the past decade with the set-up of the B.LEAGUE and their preparations for the Tokyo Olympics.

3. EASL notably does not yet feature CBA teams. What is the prospect of them joining in future, and how competitive do you think they will be against the Japanese, Koreans, Filipinos and Chinese Taipei teams?

East Asia Super League featured a variety of CBA teams in our invitational tournaments in 2017 through 2019 in Macao, and we have always maintained a very strong and positive dialogue with the CBA.

In our past tournaments, the Chinese teams played very well, winning two out of the four. We expect the same results, especially with the traditional strength of CBA import players that boost any team’s competitiveness. The COVID pandemic has complicated international exchanges between the world and China, and EASL is no exception.

We are optimistic about the CBA joining EASL for the 2024-25 season and beyond. But for now we are totally focused on our 2023-24 season, which begins on October 11 and will be shown in China on top streaming platforms. Stay tuned for more news on this.

4. EASL ran a Greater China representative team, the Bay Area Dragons, in 2022-23. They were shut down just before the start of this season. How does EASL plan to keep Chinese fans hooked during 2023-24 without the Dragons or CBA teams?

EASL competition features Chinese basketball stars like Jeremy Lin and Lin Chi-chieh (“Beast”) in the Chinese Taipei P.LEAGUE+, and we have various coaches and import players that have played in China before. We plan to use those players and coaches to build a connection with Chinese fans. We’re also broadcasting and streaming all our games live in China. So we look forward to sharing various types of Asian basketball content with fans on a weekly basis.

We’re confident that Chinese fans will enjoy Asia’s top-level professional competition because they are savvy and have watched EASL competitions in great numbers in the past. It will be an added bonus when the CBA joins EASL in the future and fans are able to see how their teams stack up against regional rivals.

5: What do you think is the significance of the CunBA phenomenon? Can you see EASL potentially supporting or working with it?

Fans want to be entertained and they enjoy electrifying live events, so it makes sense why CunBA is making such huge waves.

It offers high-level competition right at the doorstep of fans who normally do not have access to live games presented in a totally entertainment-driven approach. EASL is currently planning a variety of grassroots initiatives focused on women’s basketball, youth development and coach training. We would also love to look at ways to take CunBA to EASL’s other geographies and make it an international phenomenon.


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