CHINA DIGEST | Yao the reformer; LeSports’ woes; CSL sponsorships and takeovers

Welcome to the first SportBusiness International China Digest, a new weekly round-up of sports business news from the industry’s most dynamic market.

The digest is written by Mark Dreyer, who runs the China Sports Insider website, which features sports business news and analysis related to China’s fast-growing sports industry. He has worked for Sky Sports, Fox Sports, AP Sports and many others, and has covered major sporting events on five continents, including three Olympic Games. He has been based in China since 2007.

LeSports' problems may signal consolidation

  • Trouble is brewing at online broadcaster LeSports. Just weeks after the streaming platform managed to continue its coverage of the English Premier League only after an eleventh-hour rights fee payment was made, the Asian Football Confederation cancelled its media rights deal with the firm 16 months into their four-year agreement. In recent days, news emerged that two key figures at LeSports – COO Yu Hang and VP Zhang Zhiyong – quit the firm. This follows layoff of 20 per cent of its staff in December. After a multitude of new players emerged in China’s broadcast market in recent years, a consolidation process may now be starting.

FOOTBALL: Milan takeover drags, new Southampton bidder, CSL deals

  • Reuters says AC Milan’s protracted Chinese takeover will finally come to an end on March 3. Sino-Europe Sports, which is backed by state-backed development fund Haixia Capital and little-known Chinese businessman Li Yonghong, has reportedly paid €200m to former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, with another €320m still due. But with this deal seeing more delays than a rainy Wimbledon, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that it will continue to drag out.
  • Chinese property-firm-turned-sports-investment-vehicle Lander looked set to purchase Southampton FC, having issued a statement to the Shenzhen stock exchange declaring its intentions. But another Reuters report says the bid is now being challenged by a rival offer from a Chinese consortium led by investment bank CITIC Securities and high-tech industrial group Amer International.
  • The Chinese capital’s top football team Beijing Guoan has had an ownership change, unveiling its new official name Beijing Sinobo Guoan FC, after real estate firm Sinobo took a 64 per cent stake in the club, leaving CITIC Group-subsidiary CITIC Limited with the remaining 36 per cent.
  • With the Chinese Super League set to kick off this weekend, last season’s runner-up Jiangsu Suning has signed a new shirt sponsorship deal with electronics and telecommunications products manufacturer Konka. Meanwhile, Liaoning Whowin will be sporting ‘kx.cn’ on its jersey (Chinese language link) this season, with the little-known website hoping to boost its second-hand car sales. And a few more fans around the world could be watching the CSL this season, after new Indian sports channel DSPort picked up the rights, while sportdigital announced it will bring coverage to Germany.
  • FC Barcelona announced it will open a football academy in China’s island province of Hainan, in partnership with Chinese sports and leisure group Mission Hills, which already owns ten golf courses and operates golf and tennis academies in the provincial capital Haikou. It’s the first football academy in China to be fully managed by Barcelona, and sets itself up as a rival to Guangzhou Evergrande’s football school, which features coaches from Real Madrid.
  • The Ministry of Education planned to open 20,000 specialist football schools by 2020, but with two-thirds of those already open, the revised target will see them open by the end of this year, rising to 50,000 schools by 2025.

Yao vows CBA reform

  • Basketball Hall of Famer Yao Ming has been appointed as the new head of the CBA, saying reform will be his top priority. "The most urgent need now is to reform the CBA league's management and operation, so we can guide the league to … attract more investment and attention, while enhancing its influence," he said. Yao must sell his stake in the Shanghai Sharks before next season to avoid any conflict of interest. Yao, 36, is the first CBA boss to come from outside the government. His nine elected deputies have also all been selected from within the game.

China serious about winter sports

  • As China starts to ramp up for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, President Xi Jinping visited two of the venues for the games. He pointed out that Chinese athletes have historically performed much better in ice events than in the snow disciplines, and asked his countrymen to boost the overall level of winter sports in the country. Coming on the back of Xi’s visits earlier this week to IOC headquarters in Lausanne and to Beijing’s Olympic ski venue in Chongli – both of which received significant play on Chinese state TV – it should not be underestimated how hard China is pushing the development of its winter sports industry.

SPORTSWEAR: Li Na's Nike collection, Anta chasing global giants, Ning's deals cause furore

  • Former tennis star Li Na announced the launch of her China-exclusive Li Na Collection, in partnership with Nike. Modelled by five rising stars in Chinese sport and culture, including tennis player Zhang Shuai, the collection is said to honour Li’s trailblazing determination and aims to encourage girls to follow in her footsteps.
  • Nike leads Adidas as the top sportswear maker in the Chinese market. Number three is local brand Anta, which has just announced a net profit increase of 16.9 per cent for 2016, thanks largely to domestic sales, boosted by outfitting the Chinese team at the Rio Olympics. It’s also setting up a joint venture in Greater China with Korean brand Kolon Sports, which currently operates more than 200 stores in the territory.
  • Adidas may have played a role in swimming world champion – and national heartthrob – Ning Zetao being kicked off the national team and sent to train with the Chinese Navy team. Ning shot to fame after winning gold at the 2015 World Championships, but the sponsorship deals he has signed since then – some of which have conflicted with the national swimming team’s endorsements – have put him on a collision course with China’s swimming authorities. Ning was reportedly nearly left off the team for Rio due to his commercial activities and matters seem to have come to a head after he became an Adidas brand ambassador earlier this year.



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