• Denis Green

China Sports Business Weekly | 7th August

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


Here’s what’s been making the headlines this week: Bilibili lands League of Legends broadcast rights, Vivo backs out of IPL for 2020, UFC PI Shanghai reopens, Tencent plans Huya and DouYu merger, Tottenham Hotspur produces EPL first on Douyin, WWE launches Special Olympics campaign, what the NBA’s return means for fans in China, and a baseball documentary wins awards in China. 

In this week’s From The Top we spoke with David Proper, Senior EVP, Media and International Strategy at the National Hockey League (NHL), about the recently launched NHL Fan Leaders program, hockey education in China, engaging fans, the Winter Olympics, lessons from three years in China, and what’s coming next.

Top Industry News


1) Bilibili Banks $113M on League of Legends Exclusive Rights Deal The online entertainment platform secured the Chinese broadcast rights to all League of Legends (LoL) global events, including the World Championship, through to the end of the series’ 2023 mid-season invitational. The three-year agreement with Riot Games is reportedly worth $113M. The deal will include production of non-live content, including documentaries. Bilibili will, in addition, produce live and VOD content for Riot Games’ LoL esports platforms in China. Read more on SportsPro (English) and Sohu (Chinese)

2) Vivo Backs Out of 2020 IPL Title Sponsorship The Chinese smartphone maker withdrew as title sponsor of this year’s Indian Premier League (IPL) reportedly due to political tensions between China and India, as well as COVID-19. The deal is worth around $59M per year for the 2018-2022 period. As a balance, Vivo will likely fulfill the remaining years of the deal in 2021-2023. The news is a major blow for the IPL which will need to act decisively in finding a replacement. Read more on Times of India (English) and The Paper (Chinese) 3) UFC Performance Institute Shanghai Reopens, Athletes Return to Train The Ultimate Fighting Championship’s (UFC) state-of-the-art Performance Institute Shanghai has officially reopened for athletes to train. One of China’s most well-known athletes, Song Kenan, was at the PI this week and spoke to the AFP about his journey to UFC and the upcoming prospects currently training with him. Read more on France24 (English) and Beijing Youth (Chinese) 4) Tencent Eyes Power Play Merger of DouYu and Huya The Chinese mega-company and key driver of esports in the country is looking to merge Twitch-like game streaming platforms DouYu and Huya, as it seeks to consolidate its dominance in the industry. Tencent is already Huya’s biggest shareholder and owns more than a third of DouYu. Both Huya and DouYu are listed in the U.S., with a combined market capitalisation of $10B. Earlier this year, Tencent became the biggest shareholder of Huya, clearing a major impediment to the merger. Read more on Reuters (English) and TMT Post (Chinese) 5) Tottenham Hotspur Becomes First EPL Team to Livestream Ecommerce on Douyin Spurs became the first Premier League team to open their Douyin Store through an ecommerce focused livestream. The Store is built within the Douyin app creating a unique experience for the Chinese fans, unlike other marketplaces that link to external stores. The show was presented by two Chinese hosts modeling unique products only available to China, including a flash sale on certain products. Check out more on the club’s Douyin

6) WWE and Special Olympics Launch School Of Strength China World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and Special Olympics East Asia teamed up to launch School of Strength China Edition, a new free fitness video encouraging people of all ages to commit to a lifetime of fitness habits. Specially-produced for the Asia audience, the video features four workout sessions with varying levels of difficulty in warm up, flexibility, strength and endurance exercises. Read more on Lanxiong Sports (Chinese) In Other News Blog: What The Return of the NBA Means in China As the NBA resumes its 2019/20 season and looks to crown a champion, Mailman’s US Business Director Gideon Clark put forward five predictions on what the North American basketball league’s return will mean for China’s starved basketball fanbase. Read the Blog on SportsPro (English) Baseball Documentary Wins Big at FIRST International Film Festival The baseball-themed documentary film Tough Out, made in partnership with Major League Baseball (MLB), won both Best Documentary & Audience Award at the recent FIRST International Film Festival. Tough Out tells the story of a baseball-loving group of underprivileged children in the suburbs of Beijing. Read More on CGTN (English) and The Paper (Chinese) U.S. Issues Orders Banning TikTok and WeChat From Operating Executive orders announced the ban of Chinese-owned social media apps TikTok and WeChat from operating in the U.S. in 45 days if they are not sold by their parent companies. Read more on CNN (English) and Huanqiu (Chinese) Esports News DouYu Lands Rights to ESL Pro Tour Competitions Esports organisations ESL and DreamHack have agreed a rights deal with Chinese streaming platform DouYu. The pair have signed a contract through which the ESL Pro Tour for StarCraft II and WarCraft III will be live streamed exclusively on DouYu in 2020 and 2021, covering standard Mandarin and other Chinese dialects. Read more on SportBusiness (English) and ESL Weibo (Chinese)

From The Top

David Proper, Senior EVP, Media and international Strategy at the National Hockey League (NHL) 1. Where did the idea of the NHL Fan Leaders program originate from and what's the long-term goal of this project? One thing we observed early is that hockey fans in China are exactly like hockey fans elsewhere in the world – incredibly passionate and enthusiastic. The NHL Fan Leaders program was created to offer our most dedicated fans an official platform to share their enthusiasm for hockey and inspire others to become fans. We have found that our fans embrace such an opportunity to share their love for the game with others and we wanted to provide a vehicle for our fans in China to do this. We envision our Fan Leaders will be content creators, fan community leaders, and ambassadors for the NHL in China. Long-term, these fans will continue to be offered opportunities to engage deeply with the NHL in a multitude of ways including, for example, attending NHL games in China and North America, which we expect will provide more opportunities for these Leaders to engage with current and potential fans and, ultimately, grow their following and, hopefully, the Chinese NHL fan base. 2. Hockey education has always been key to the NHL's strategy in China. How will you look to continue these in new and original ways? Much of our education efforts have been intended to introduce fans to the sport and the excitement associated with the game. We have created educational videos to explain the rules and strategies. We have targeted younger fans through our BOOMi partnership. Our next significant program will focus on NHL Ball Hockey which is a program we are planning to launch officially in the fall. Ball hockey is an excellent first entry point to the sport because it is a fun, simple and affordable way to play the game. By growing our Ball Hockey program throughout China, we hope to provide as many students across the country opportunities to engage with hockey and become interested in the on-ice version of the sport. We are also reimagining our official NHL WeChat Mini-Program to help achieve scale. Our redesigned Mini-Program is going to feature a comprehensive NHL Ball Hockey curriculum comprised of video lessons, written course materials, additional educational content, and community portals for students, parents, and educators. This program has specifically been designed to allow teachers and coaches without hockey experience to easily access the materials and incorporate hockey into their school curriculums. 3. With almost all international events in China looking unlikely this year, how are you looking to engage deeper with fans without having games in the country? While we are disappointed not to be able to play the NHL China Games this year, we have amplified our digital content offerings to continue to bring high-quality NHL content to our fans in China. Just ahead of our season resumption, we launched two original NHL shows in the Chinese market. NHL University is a 10-episode animated educational series covering a broad range of topics such as the history of the NHL, the greatest NHL players and how to watch an NHL game, among others. We also introduced Ice TV, the first-ever NHL talk show in China. Each week, we invite a special guest to the show to talk about the Stanley Cup Playoffs and share personal experiences with hockey. Additionally, we are thrilled to have launched our first-ever NHL Digital Fan Event, a nearly two-hour livestreamed event in which we premiered new content, interviewed some of our most dedicated Chinese fans, launched the NHL Fan Leaders program, and previewed the Stanley Cup Qualifiers and Stanley Cup Playoffs. This event generated more than 2.3 million views, highlighting the widespread excitement for the resumption of the 2019-20 season. 4. With the Winter Olympics scheduled to take place in 2022 in Beijing, how much of an impact do you expect this to have on the sport of hockey in China? We expect the 2022 Winter Olympics will further assist in the growth of hockey in China, and it already has had a noticeable impact in the commitment of the market to the general growth of winter sports. Each year since the announcement that Beijing would host the 2022 Olympics, more ice rinks have been built, youth participation in hockey has increased, and interest from partners in collaborating with the NHL has heightened. We anticipate that this enthusiasm will only continue to build as we get closer to the 2022 Beijing Olympics. 5. As leagues are returning to play in front of empty arenas, how is the NHL looking to entertain its fans and what role does digital play? What has or hasn't changed from an international perspective? As games have resumed, we of course miss the energy of our fans in our arenas. You will never be able to replicate that energy. Nonetheless, our Events and Broadcasting teams have done a truly phenomenal job in putting together a television product that has engaged hockey fans worldwide. We have incorporated multiple additional cameras into the broadcast, unique audio enhancements and other in-arena content, all in an effort to bring television audiences closer to the game. Our NHL Studios production crew is producing daily content from inside the bubble in Toronto and Edmonton to allow our fans access to these unique environments. This unprecedented look at our game is a major part of our international strategy. Fans in our international markets who may not have the chance to experience our games live are given a bigger window than ever into the NHL experience. 6. Since entering the market just 3 years ago to now having an established fan base in China, what have been the lessons learned and how is that guiding strategy moving forward? In those three years we have learned that there is a substantial demand for NHL hockey in China. Our fan base has grown rapidly, and our evolving content strategy is designed to provide this fan base with unprecedented content offerings. Our content approach has been focused on introducing the game to fans in China – teaching the rules and showcasing our tentpole events. As our fan base grows and becomes more familiar with the sport, we will continue to expand our content offerings to cater to the avid NHL fans in China. For example, three years ago, we would not have contemplated producing a program like Ice TV featuring in-depth matchup previews and game analysis, but we have recognized the demand for such content in China has grown. However, the key to any such content is to ensure that we talk to the Chinese audience and cater our content to that audience. We must always remember to talk specifically to that community in a way that recognizes who they are and what they find important. For example, we have come to appreciate the importance of featuring local fans when we tell the story of hockey in China. Our top-performing content includes videos provided to us by hockey parents of their children participating in the sport. To maintain this momentum, we will continue to promote local participation in the sport in all of the ways I have described above. Needless to say, we are very excited for the future in China. --

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