• Andrew Collins

Sport in China needs to unlock the passion to create success

Updated: Jun 10, 2019

Change to the sporting sector in China has been announced, but will it ever lead to the sophistication & maturity of western sports, their sponsorships, or produce results in the field of play? Passion seems to be the missing key ingredient.


Sponsoring a sporting event, body, team or individual in China is a complex game of navigating negotiations and business rules against the backdrop of a floored national system and a questionable cultural passion for sport. Yes, the Chinese love a sports superstar  (probably more than most) but support is often limited to that very small segment in sport where success has met opportunity. There are pockets of success and exceptions to the rule in most sports but all too often, those individuals & success stories are made to carry the burden of promoting a system that is broken. (Think Yao Ming & Li Na)

This Mailman contributor grew up in Australia, a country at the opposite end of the sporting development scale where commercial brands are immersed in sporting culture and are active participants in unlocking the passion for sport at a very early age. It starts in the back yard for many Aussie kids (wheet bix kids) and involves imaginary role play, even reciting sports commentators and singing songs the sponsors have created to market their product. (I feel like a Tooheys)

It’s never easy to evaluate whether a sponsorship is actually a good investment. In fact it is crucial to accept the reality that sponsoring sports events doesn’t necessarily bring an immediate return on investment, in any country. Sponsorship is a platform that requires multiple layers & forms of communication and an unyielding pursuit to unlock and harness public passion or appetite for a sporting property, only then can it be declared a success.  Is this happening with sport in China?

It takes time for companies to make the most of what sports can bring to brands with international ambitions, their is also a significant gap between commercial support for a sport and the ability of a sponsor to take something tangible away from it. Take the Chinese Football Super League for example, naming rights sponsor Wanda Plaza since 2011, a quick search of The Wanda Group website yields nothing about their 500 million RMB investment in the sport, a call to the the Super League football body is met with perplexing silence and a call to the Wanda head office phone number about their sponsorship program is met with bewilderment by the receptionist.  Why bother sponsoring if you are not going to support that investment with a passionate team & a comprehensive communication structure that has a chance of engagement and unlocking the passion?

Compare that sporting association with Rolex and their sponsorship of the ATP Shanghai Masters and you can see clearly what effective sponsorship looks like. Rolex and the Shanghai Masters event organisers (Juss Group) share a passion for the game and the city of Shanghai, they have created an event & sponsorship platform that the rest of sport in China should aspire to. Sure the event has its challenges in crowd attendance but all stakeholders have set goals to achieve that and are 100% focused on unlocking that passion for Tennis and are making year to year improvements.

Commercial involvement & participation in the China sport’s sector is crucial to future success, the potential has always been there, they just need to unlock the passion and a few good examples to follow.

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