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  • Denis Green

China Sports Business Weekly | 8th November

Updated: Dec 5, 2019

All the biggest China sports business news stories from the week. In this edition, FC Bayern set stone for Shenzhen school, the inaugural WTA Finals Shenzhen take place, Watford partners with Dongqiudi, China sets rules for young gamers, Yili sponsors CBA, and more. My From the Top interview is with Darrelle Eng, Marketing Director (Asia-Pacific), WTA. Top Industry Stories: 1) FC Bayern Football School Shenzhen Set in Stone At a ceremony on Thursday, the foundation stone of the new FC Bayern Football School Shenzhen was laid. Preparations have been underway since March 2017 with the city’s own Shenzhen Investment Holdings Company and the agency China Sports Futurity. The school can train up to 2,160 pupils in 54 classes. Operations will begin in September 2020 – temporarily from another campus – with a total of 20 football pitches, including six full-size ones. Read more on Bayern English & Chinese

2) Barty Takes Home Record Prize Money for WTA Title Win Australian women’s tennis player Ashley Barty made history last weekend by becoming the first winner of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Finals in the new location of Shenzhen. The event offered the greatest amount of prize money ever at a tour event ($14m). Barty alone collected $4.4m. Read more on ESPN (English) and Sina Sports (Chinese)

Mailman Take: Prize money was the topic of discussion heading into the Finals and still was once the event had finished. It’s important the WTA focuses on developing the sport in China and supporting grassroots. I hope that over the next decade the talk of prize money quietens down and noise around the development of the sport grows. There’s a genuine opportunity to grow the women’s game in China and create local heroes, and I’m confident the WTA will succeed in this.

3) Watford FC Partners with Dongqiudi The English Premier League football club has partnered with popular Chinese football community app Dongqiudi. The two sides will work together on content production, fan services, and growing Watford’s fan base in China. Read more on Ecosports (Chinese)

4) Young Gamers to Abide by Government Rules The Chinese government has released new rules aimed at curbing video game addiction among young people, a problem officials believe is a reason for nearsightedness and poor academic performance. The regulations ban users younger than 18 from playing video games between 10 pm and 8 am. They are not permitted to play more than 90 minutes on weekdays and three hours on weekends and holidays. Read more on NYT (English) and People’s Daily (Chinese) Mailman Take: I imagine this won’t be overly easy to monitor, especially if video games include mobile video games. China’s gaming and esports industry is growing exponentially; this be the start of the slowdown, or could the new rules simply be ignored...

5) Yili & CBA Agree on Sponsorship The Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) has agreed to a sponsorship deal with Chinese dairy products company Inner Mongolia Yili Industrial Group, which will become a partner of the Chinese domestic league. Yili is CBA’s first domestic dairy category sponsor. Read more on SportBusiness (English) and Tencent News (Chinese) 6) Dongfeng Fengshen Sponsors Top-tier ITTF Events The automobile brand, owned by Chinese automaker Dongfeng Passenger Vehicle Company, has become a Major Partner of the 2019 ITTF Team World Cup, Men’s World Cup and World Tour Grand Finals. Read more on ITTF in English & Chinese 7) Hype Sports Expands into China Hype Sports Innovation, which runs accelerator programs for sports tech startups, has expanded into China through a partnership with AquaBloom, a sports business consultancy firm based in Hong Kong. Hype’s global accelerator network will now aid the growth of select sports technology companies in China through the partnership. Read more on SportTechie (English)

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From the Top

This week I spoke to My From the Top interview is with Darrelle Eng, Marketing Director (Asia-Pacific), WTA. We talked about the recent WTA finals in Shenzhen, the potential for women’s tennis in China, and how to inspire the next generations.

1. Why was Shenzhen chosen as the new home for the WTA Finals? The WTA identified China very early on as a key market for its growth potential. We’ve spent decades building infrastructure there and have provided a platform for female tennis players in China. Our efforts here are part of a long-term investment and development plan. We’re encouraged by our past milestones and are actively pursuing new ones through local/national government support. With great partners like Gemdale and iQIYi, we can strengthen our commitment to these goals so more Chinese players are emerging at a world-class level and women’s tennis receives greater recognition within Chinese culture.

Shenzhen made a major commitment to the WTA and we have made a major commitment to them. They have not only made a very attractive offer in terms of excitement, financial backing, and government commitment, but the 10-year tenure will give us the time to build a strong foundation and create an impact that will be meaningful and enduring.

2. How has this change impacted the tournament and the sport's popularity in China? Having an event like the WTA Finals has a profound impact on so many different areas. Of course, the promotion of women’s tennis is at the forefront of our efforts, and the idea of celebrating the achievements of some of the strongest and toughest women in the world is nothing short of inspiring. Hosting the WTA Finals in Shenzhen will bring the best in women’s tennis to an all-new audience, encouraging spectatorship, and allowing for more deep-rooted engagement with fans in the city and beyond.

3. What do you plan to do online in China to maximise this period?

The WTA understands consumer behavior in China and how much of the average person’s life is on their mobile phones and online. To that end, we are committed to dedicating more time and resources to really get a grasp of how best to not only reach out to our fans and engage them but to generate greater interest in our sport and the events.

As one of the world’s leading sports entities, there is huge potential for growth in China and we are looking to boost our presence online through the understanding and utilisation of all the most popular and widely-used apps, as well as digital platforms, to promote our brand. We have a great opportunity to aggregate the following of the WTA players and our tournaments to build on the growth of the WTA brand through the various online platforms, so we will be working to find ways that these pieces will all come together to contribute to a greater whole.

4. China is an icon market, just how important are these female players in inspiring a new generation of players, and how will WTA facilitate that? This is the timeless concern in sports, we are in awe when a unique talent and personality presents itself and it can be the most valuable marketing money can’t buy, but we also know that is the beauty of the tennis, we don’t know who that next big star will be yet. The WTA’s marketing strategy requires us to be promoting the sport and sharing player journeys that build off the court, so as soon as they emerge in competition, we can be well-equipped to maximise those opportunities.

This year, there are two Chinese players that have made it to the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen – Xu Yifan with her partner Gabriela Dabrowski, and Zhang Shuai with her partner Sam Stosur. Other Chinese players such as Wang Qiang, Zheng Saisai, Wang Yafan, together with the teenagers Wang Xinyu and Wang Xiyu, are starting to make the journeys on the tour with some great results this season.

5. How does the WTA plan to help grow the sport out here? Having an event of this stature in Shenzhen, coupled with local role models like Li Na and Zheng Jie, and current players such as Wang Qiang, Zheng Saisai, Zhang Shuai and Wang Yafan, as well as the up-and-coming player from Shenzhen, Wang Xinyu, will only help to encourage the talent in the region to pursue further development. It is a great opportunity for the WTA and its local partners to create development programs at the grassroots level, leveraging in the spotlight on the sport which the event brings.

Programs like the regional WTA Future Stars and local initiatives will also help us to inspire kids by bringing them right up close to the action at the WTA Finals, watching the matches live, and having the opportunity to engage with players and legends.

6. At the end of this decade-long deal, what kind of legacy do you hope to leave? We’re pleased to have successfully transitioned the WTA Finals from one city in the APAC to another. We saw so much growth and success in Singapore, we have no doubt Shenzhen will be even more rewarding with our ten-year plan and our partners, the Gemdale Group.

The most important resource to make this event a success is in fact time. The fact that we will be building another legacy over ten years, is key to unlocking the full potential of the partnership and of the mission to grow our sport. The other resources we will be tapping into include Gemdale’s experience in real estate and the current urbanisation of China - we’ll be able to shape every aspect of our destiny there: grassroots marketing, the infrastructure, the execution.

7. How did the first Finals go? Any key learnings?

The inaugural Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen was a success from many aspects. To begin with, the field we had this year showed the talent and promise of the future of women’s tennis, as Ashleigh Barty not only secured her year-end WTA World No.1 position but also took home the title, which came along with the biggest prize money ever in the sport.

We are confident that there is a hunger for top-quality tennis action and also being able to bring the best in women’s tennis closer to the fans here has created that anticipation for next year. We will be looking to capitalise on this interest to continue to build the excitement throughout 2020 and create another great crescendo at the end of the season.

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In Other News

Each week, we’ll be introducing 3 awards for Mailman’s Red Card 2020: China Digital Football Awards. 4. Best China Tour Delivered a great connection to the fans during the tour and optimised its presence digitally to all fans in the country.

5. Best Original Video Production

Shown an exceptional creative video concept, that is suited to the local trends, values, and culture.

6. Best Sponsorship

Activated a sponsor through an authentic, innovative and localised medium.

For more information on how to submit, click for English & Chinese. Submissions are now open and the deadline is November 30th. Alipay Opens Up for International Visitors Alibaba-affiliated Ant Financial launched a new international version of its mobile payments app Alipay, marking the first time tourists and business travelers can use mobile payments in mainland China. Alipay users can now download and buy prepaid cards within the app using international debit and credit cards. The prepaid cards expire after 90 days and any remaining money is automatically refunded. Read more on CNN (English) and Global Times (Chinese)


Mailman Take: As China becomes a predominantly cashless economy, this will help the millions of tourists who flock to China each year. Some shops have already stopped accepting cash.

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