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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Collins

The Secret to Building Professional Sports Communities in China

Updated: May 29, 2019

The Chinese sports industry has never been more competitive. Money is flowing in, fueling the development of industries and participation, whilst new ways to monetize professional sports are being constantly explored.

In the centre of all this is the Chinese fan. Loud, passionate and in high demand, the Chinese fan is what all global sports rights holders are now seeking to engage.

Community is the Currency

At Mailman, we have built a business focusing almost exclusively on China digital consulting for the world’s best sports organisations. We’ve helped establish millions of fans behind some of the most recognisable names in sports, including Manchester United, Liverpool FC, Bundesliga, Novak Djokovic, UFC, NFL, and Kobe Bryant, to name but a few.

They all compete for a variety of fan personas, many of which cross over numerous sports. The philosophy behind developing a global sports brand in China is often overshadowed by the organisation’s desire for domination, neglecting the single most significant factor: developing a well-connected community.

How Are You Serving the Fan?

The more fans, the more success, the relationship between fans and progress is clear. However, the fans know this and they’re beginning to demand a higher degree of engagement from their favourite team, league or athlete.

When beginning to engage China, it’s important for your organisation to recognise just how you’re going to rally the community around your brand. The why has become more important than the how.

To establish and maintain a successful community in China, you have to get 3 components right:

1. Identify a small group of followers

2. A shared cause to rally behind

3. A leader to represent the cause

In China, there are thousands of niche communities supporting all types of sports. We have large well established communities following the Premier League, Bundesliga or teams such as Manchester United. But there are equally passionate followings for smaller organisations such as kickboxing, mixed martial arts or ice hockey.

These smaller communities are fragmented from the mainstream, often led by a single community leader or a micro-board, eager to champion the sport forward. More often than not, these communities are ‘non-profit’ and the willingness of its members to engage is more organic and genuine. Their efficacy towards your brand will largely depend on your approach.

Their Community Comes First

Before launching your assault on the digital communities and pleading for followers, stop to consider how you’re going to rally support behind a greater cause? A cause, that if supported by the larger community, would benefit everyone.

For example, with the Winter Olympics coming up in China in just 5 years, when considering how to develop the NHL’s brand in China, we first looked to understand the 100’s of independent communities and companies driving their own goals within the Ice Hockey space. These include the fan led groups, the local ice hockey leagues and teams, and the commercially oriented ice hockey training academies, hoping to unearth China’s next NHL superstar.

We ask ourselves ‘what can we do for the NHL where everybody wins?’ The answer is not to promote NHL, not the training, and not the teams, it’s a collective vision to promote the game of Ice Hockey. When the game wins, everyone wins.

Communicating the Shared Cause

Having established this shared mission, you’ll discover that there are many ways to represent it authentically. The most important thing is to be genuine at every step.

At Mailman, we take an ‘old and new approach’.

The Old: organising face-to-face sessions with the community leaders, listening to their goals and values, and establishing how we can align.

The New: we work hard to create a continuous flow of social content that shares the mission and talks directly to the leaders, inviting participation.

As you will discover, by embracing a collective vision or cause and positioning yourself as the champion for that, you’ll see more support, more cooperation and ultimately more success.

Over time, the cause may change, provided you’re continuing to engage (old and new) you’ll be able to adjust appropriately. The leader must stay acutely attuned to the broader industry trends and above all, ensure you’re always there to serve the community first.

Mailman is a China sports digital marketing agency. We help deliver expert digital & social media programs for the world’s most powerful sports organisations in China.

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