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China Digest | Bargain Liverpool shirts on offer; Shanghai welcomes Aussie rules; LG kits out Wanda Metropolitano

Weekly round-up of sports business news from the Chinese sports industry.


Bargain Liverpool shirts on offer

Liverpool FC has embarked on a fascinating experiment in China by selling an official replica jersey at a greatly reduced price in the hope that the Chinese market is now ready to move away from its reputation for counterfeits. While the regular New Balance-produced home shirt sells for $87 (€79), the new version – made by an unnamed manufacturer using cheaper material, but very similar in appearance – is on sale for just $30. That might seem ridiculously low in comparison, but when fake Liverpool shirts – admittedly lower in quality, but still serviceable – can be bought online for as little as $5, the club is banking on the fact that a certain swathe of loyal fans will justify their calculated gamble.

While the Mirror takes the tack that this is an affront to all right-thinking Englishmen (“infuriate”, “massive backlash”, “rip-off” etc.), it seems a sensible way to at least test the Chinese market, which has long been saturated by so many mass-produced fakes that authorities have long since given up chasing shadows. It is possible, of course, that this could backfire in more mature markets where fans are still being asked to shell out top dollar for the New Balance version, but other products – from iPhones to luxury goods – have long been sold for different prices in different countries, while the inferior quality of the China model is being used to justify the steep discount in this particular example. Other clubs and leagues will be watching China with interest to see how Liverpool fares. But in today’s hyper-globalised world, how long before the China shirts start to make their way overseas?

Shanghai welcomes Aussie rules

Aussie Rules football made its competitive debut in China last weekend as Port Adelaide Power overwhelmed Gold Coast Suns 110-38 in Shanghai, to mark the first time that a regular-season game had been held outside Australia or New Zealand. Although it counted as a home game for Gold Coast, it was Port Adelaide that was very much behind the initiative, with real estate firm Shanghai CRED signing a deal with the club for an undisclosed amount last year.

The FT quoted Power chairman David Koch as saying the club has become ‘a “dating agency” that brings in wealthy investors to meet local companies’. Koch added that 12 Chinese sponsors had signed on for the game. Shanghai CRED chairman Gui Guojie attended the game with Gina Rinehart, with whom Gui purchased the Kidman estate last year, while Chinese mining entrepreneur Sally Zou and Rio Tinto board members were also spotted. Port Adelaide has said it is committed to China for the long term, but with the majority of fans Australian expats or tourists, and many back home ridiculing the venture, the league has long path ahead if it wants to make some serious inroads here.

LG kits out Wanda Metropolitano

Korean firm LG Electronics will supply technology for Atlético Madrid’s new stadium, Wanda Metropolitano, with displays, TV screens and other relevant signage filling the 67,000-seat stadium. Phillips has already signed on to be the main light provider in the arena, which is due to open for the start of next season. Wanda has naming rights for the stadium, having taken a 20-per-cent stake in the Spanish LaLiga football club in 2015.

In other European news this week that is also of interest to the Wanda Group, Italian swimwear brand Arena has extended its sponsorship of triathlon’s Ironman European Series. This year’s series, which runs from May 13 to October 1, will feature 52 events, including 13 Ironman races and 18 Ironman 70.3 races. Wanda purchased the Ironman franchise in 2015 for $650m.

Sabatini installed at Jiangsu Suning

Walter Sabatini has been appointed as the new technical coordinator of Chinese Super League team Jiangsu Suning, while also holding a similar role at Inter Milan. The former AS Roma sporting director said he would try to improve the situations at both clubs, adding that a weekend during which one club won but the other lost would not be a good one. While the specifics of the twin roles – or the logistics of simultaneously working on two continents – have not been fully explained, it’s a clear example of Suning, which acquired a controlling stake in Inter Milan last year, trying to create synergies between its two clubs.

Door opens for ITTF

The International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) has announced a sponsorship deal with Chinese door manufacturer TATA Tongchuang for this year’s individual World Championships, which will be held in Dusseldorf, Germany, from May 29 to June 5. The ITTF, which is holding its presidential election at the end of this month, adds TATA Tongchuang to a list of global partners that includes Liebherr, ARAG, Tissot, Double Happiness, Nittaku and Gerflor, but with the sport still dominated by Chinese competitors and enjoying continued popularity within China, TATA’s focus is still decidedly domestic.


Elsewhere this week…

  • Chinese smartphone manufacturers continue their push into the Indian market as Vivo pens a five-year title sponsorship deal with the Pro Kabaddi League, worth a reported $46.5m.
  • Argentinian footballer Ezequiel Lavezzi, currently with Hebei China Fortune FC and reportedly the world’s highest paid player, was forced to apologise after a picture of him making an gesture offensive to Asians went viral on Twitter and was then picked up by Chinese media.
  • China’s He Jiahong, Professor of Law at Renmin University, has been named to Fifa’s new Ethics Committee, where he will represent Asia.
  • Mineral water firm Ganten has signed on as a platinum sponsor for the 2017 China Open tennis tournament.
  • Tencent has signed an exclusive online partnership with China’s legendary volleyball player and coach Lang Ping.

And some 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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