China Digest | WTA Finals will move to Shenzhen

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

Shenzhen to host WTA Finals from 2019

The Women’s Tennis Association has signed a ten-year deal with the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen that will see the season-ending Finals event held there from 2019 to 2028. Shenzhen saw off competition from Manchester, Prague and St. Petersburg, but existing host Singapore, whose deal will expire after the 2018 tournament, was known to have considered an extension. The prize money will now double to a new high of $14m (€11.5m) per tournament from 2019, with Chinese real estate developer Gemdale the chief backer of the city’s bid, which also includes the promise of a new state-of-the-art 12,000-seat venue.

China Open becomes the second £1m snooker prize

Snooker is another sport being reshaped by Chinese funds. Seven tournaments on World Snooker’s calendar are now held in China, with Beijing’s China Open this week becoming the second tournament after the World Championship to offer £1m (€1.1m/$1.4m) in prize money. The new four-year deal, effective from this April’s tournament, comes after organizers signed a new hosting agreement with promoters Star Xing Pai and Beijing Fuhua Culture Tourism Development. The total money on offer has almost doubled from last year, with the winner’s cheque of £225,000 up from £85,000 in 2017. Eighteen-year-old Ding Junhui pocketed £30,000 for winning the inaugural China Open in 2005. Such has been Ding’s popularity over the past decade that interest in snooker has soared, sparking a new wave of players that now sees 20 Chinese ranked in the world’s Top 100.

Wanda reveals financial, IPO details

More details have been revealed about Wanda Sports’ potential IPO, including the three banks – Citigroup, UBS and Hong Kong-based CLSA – set to handle the offering. Meanwhile, parent company Wanda Group says it plans to clear all of its overseas debt, claiming that 93 per cent of its assets are still within China. A statement posted to its website this weekend revealed that operating revenues for 2017 dropped by almost 11 per cent, due in large part to its sale of hotels and theme parks in China last year. It also said that seven per cent of the company’s total assets were offshore, an unusual disclosure likely made because it had been criticized on several occasions by authorities for accumulating debt overseas. It also said proceeds from its sports sector totaled 32.1bn RMB ($5b) last year, accounting for 14 per cent of the group’s total revenues.

IOC approves North Korean participation at Pyeongchang

The International Olympic Committee has allowed 22 athletes from North Korea to compete at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang next month, 12 of whom will form part of a historic joint women’s ice hockey team with South Korea. The agreement, ratified on Saturday in Lausanne, states that at least three of the 22 players selected for each game from the newly-expanded squad of 35 must be from North Korea. However, Switzerland, who will face the joint team in their Group B clash, has already expressed reservations, saying the move is “not fair and distorts competition”. Elsewhere, two figure skaters, two short track speed skaters, three cross-country skiers and three alpine skiers have been allowed to compete in a largely symbolic move, given that none are expected to challenge for medals. All athletes from the two Koreas will march at the Opening and Closing Ceremonies behind the Korean Unification Flag, which was designed ahead of the 1990 Asian Games in Beijing, though first officially used in international competition a year later and has since been employed at three Olympic Games.

LeBron back on top in China

LeBron James may be going through a torrid time in the US given the struggles of his Cleveland Cavaliers, but he’s had some good news from China, where he has reclaimed top spot in NBA jersey sales from Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors. Curry was top last year in China, but fell to second behind James, with James Harden (Houston Rockets), Kevin Durant (Golden State) and Kyrie Irving (Boston Celtics) completing the top five. Harden is only at number 10 in the US rankings, but the Rockets have long been known as “China’s team” thanks to Yao Ming’s success there, while Chinese youngster Zhou Qi has played parts of 14 games for the Rockets this season as he bids to establish himself in the NBA full-time.

Chinese govt cracks down on tattoos

Tattoos and other aspects of “hip-hop culture” have been banned from entertainment shows on Chinese television, but it’s not clear how this might affect sports programming or indeed sponsorship campaigns, with several well-known Chinese athletes prominently featuring tattoos in public. The State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television of the People’s Republic of China has reportedly issued the ban in a bid to crack down on those who “lack high moral standards”. Two-time Olympic badminton singles champion Lin Dan famously sports five tattoos, including a Christian cross, while many Chinese Super League players feature a number of visible designs. While this edict may sound innocuous, tattoos have long been viewed suspiciously by authorities in China, with two-time Grand Slam winner Li Na widely labeled a rebel due to the rose tattoo on her chest.

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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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