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CHINA DIGEST | NHL makes its play; Bayern opens Shenzhen facility; first live broadcast for WrestleMania

Weekly news round-up from the Chinese sports industry.

NHL joins winter sports drive with pre-season games

The big news of the week was official confirmation by ice hockey's National Hockey League (NHL) that two pre-season games between the Vancouver Canucks and the Los Angeles Kings in September will kick-off an eight-year slate of games in China. The league said all the right things about looking beyond the 2022 Olympics, and taking a long-term approach to developing the game, but it’s worth pointing out that the Chinese government is not expecting 300m residents to take up winter sports in the coming years, as the NHL and others have cited. That number simply refers to the population of northeastern China, the country’s winter sports hub.

There’s been plenty of commentary about the NHL games, which will be presented by sponsoring partner ORG Packaging, a Chinese can maker with whom the Boston Bruins already have a relationship, including:

Beckham slips, rights himself

Beckham was also in Hong Kong recently to announce a deal with life insurance firm AIA, before posting a video with the caption 'Great 48 Hours in China'. Hongkongers, who still like to pretend that they live in a self-governed autonomous region rather than just another Chinese city, bombarded Becks on Instagram and Facebook, telling him that Hong Kong is not China, and mainlanders hit back arguing that it is. Ever the diplomat, Becks changed the caption to 'Great 48 Hours in Hong Kong and Shanghai'.

Football: Sponsorships for Antoine Griezmann and Arsenal; Milan deal still alive; Bayern opens Shenzhen facility

France international Antoine Griezmann has joined Lionel Messi in becoming a brand ambassador for Huawei, the Chinese telecoms and phone manufacturer. The deal was announced as Huawei unveiled its P10 smartphone. The brand joins the Atlético Madrid striker’s growing endorsements portfolio, which includes Puma, Apple Beats, Gillette and Head & Shoulders.

English football club Arsenal, whose Huawei deal was not renewed when it ran out last year, currently has deals with two other Chinese partners – sports & cultural development company iRENA and BNN Technology, with whom the club has just expanded the scope of its partnership . BNN serves as Arsenal’s official lottery partner in China and will now develop coaching programmes, provide VIP experiences for Chinese fans and deliver unique content via state news agency Xinhua’s mobile app, such as interviews, press conferences, training footage and coaching videos. Arsenal also operates a Chinese-language website and will play Chelsea at the Bird’s Nest Stadium in Beijing on July 22.

AC Milan’s on-again, off-again dance with a Chinese consortium appears to have been given yet another lifeline with news that US private equity fund Elliott has stepped in to fill a €300m euro gap left by the departure of Chinese state-backed fund Haixia Capital, which backed out of supporting the SES consortium due to pressure from Chinese regulators. The key details, however, remain the same: little is known about Li Yonghong, the businessman leading the deal, and Silvio Berlusconi stands to make a killing whether or not the deal actually goes through, due to the payment of several non-refundable deposits. Reuters say the deal is now set to close on April 14, but, as before, expect that to be a very fluid deadline.

Fresh from the opening of an office in Shanghai, Bayern Munich has opened a football school in Shenzhen, the city where it will face AC Milan on July 22 as part of the ICC China tournament. The school has six large fields, ten 5-a-side pitches, four indoor ones, an FC Bayern museum and a high-tech football training ground. Real Madrid and Barcelona are among the clubs that have already opened similar facilities in China, as the push by European clubs to attract Chinese fans through partnerships in the country continues. A fishing village of just 30,000 people back in 1980, Shenzhen is now home to 12 million and is the high-tech capital of China.

CBA renews Infront commercial rights deal

In basketball, sports marketing firm Infront extended its deal to manage the CBA’s international media rights and sponsorship portfolio. Infront, owned by Chinese real estate conglomerate Wanda, was originally chosen by the CBA over the NBA’s marketing team. The parties will be hoping that the next few years will be somewhat smoother than recent ones: in late 2015, the league signed an 'exclusive' deal with watchmaker TAG Heuer, only to start using Tissot logos a few weeks later. The Tissot deal was then suspended, and then reinstated when TAG canceled their deal and successfully sued Infront.

First live broadcast for WrestleMania

WrestleMania has been broadcast live online in China this week for the first time via streaming platform PPTV. The event went out live at 7am local time on Monday for a one-time price of 30 RMB, or $4.35, with English and Chinese commentary options. It will be available on demand for the next 30 days. It is not yet known how many people watched. WWE and PPTV signed a multi-year distribution deal last summer, when WWE also signed its first Chinese wrestler, Wang Bin.

Shanghai sell-out for Aussie Rules game

The Australian Financial Review reports that tickets for the Port Adelaide Power vs Gold Coast Suns Aussie Rules game in Shanghai in May have sold out in under three hours. The paper says that 5,000 fans will travel from Port Adelaide, ensuring that the 11,600-seat Jiangwan Stadium will be sold out. It’s the first regular season AFL game to be played outside of Australia or New Zealand and is being driven by Port Adelaide, who last year teamed up with Chinese property developer Shanghai CRED, whose chairman Gui Guojie then joined forces with Australian billionaire Gina Rinehart to push through a previously-blocked purchase of Australian beef producer Kidman.

The Power have also signed a sponsorship deal with Chinese property development firm Greaton, while cross-town rival Adelaide FC has picked up a deal with China Southern Airlines.

Also this week:

Further reading:


The China 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.


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