Weekly round-up of sports business news from the Chinese sports industry.
Xi Jinping’s potential term extension supports football reforms
In China, everything is dominated by politics, which is why the main news of the week – that the Communist Party has proposed removing the two-term limit for the President and Vice-President – is still relevant for the sports industry. This change clears the way for Xi Jinping, already viewed as China’s most powerful leader for decades, to stay in power past 2022. Xi is known to be a football fan, so the country’s long-term soccer reforms plans now look more certain. But as the New Yorker writes, “China is reentering a period in which the fortunes of a fifth of humanity hinge, to an extraordinary degree, on the visions, impulses, and insecurities of a solitary figure”.
Wanda leaves Atlético, looks inward
One person who is now very much walking to the government’s tune, having had his knuckles rapped last year, is Wang Jianlin, head of the powerful Wanda conglomerate. Wanda came under pressure to sell off assets to ease its debt burden and to refocus on China’s economy, which is why its decision to sell its 17-per-cent stake in Atlético Madrid should come as no surprise. Nor that Wanda has now, according to Chinese media reports, turned back towards Chinese football, buying newly-promoted Chinese Super League club Dalian Yifang. Wang has often liked to make a splash, and appears to have done so immediately, with Dalian set to buy both Belgian international Yannick Carrasco and Argentine international Nico Gaitán from – wait for it – Atlético Madrid.
Could Wanda also sell Ironman, Infront stakes?
Given that Wang and Wanda have often set the tone for others to follow, don’t be surprised if other Chinese firms also choose to sell their stakes in European football clubs. For Wanda, attention now turns towards its other overseas sporting properties, most notably the Ironman triathlon franchise and sports marketing agency Infront – which incidentally agreed a partnership this week with triathlon’s governing body, the International Triathlon Union – and whether government pressure back home might also force Wanda to sell those entities too.
Tmall sponsors Renault F1 team
Alibaba-owned online marketplace Tmall has agreed a sponsorship deal with Formula One team Renault for the 2018 season, which gets underway next month. More details about the partnership are expected in March, but new images show Tmall’s “cat” logo featured alongside other sponsors at the front of Renault’s car. Launched in 2008, Tmall is China’s largest third-party platform for brands and retailers, controlling more than half of all retail ecommerce sales in China.
Alibaba jostles for room among other IOC sponsors
Reuters says Alibaba has been engaging in a “sponsorship dance” with other major Olympic partners at the Pyeongchang Games. Alibaba has previously said it’s in talks with Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, Samsung and Intel to find ways to work together, but Reuters identified Visa and Atos as potential rivals to the Chinese giant. While Alibaba is the official Olympic e-commerce platform, services provider Visa – the payment technology partner – also ventures into e-commerce territory. Alibaba is also listed as the cloud services provider of the Games and sparred with fellow Olympic sponsor Atos prior to Pyeongchang, saying the French company should remove any references to the cloud from their website.
NHL athletes still out of expanded Beijing ice hockey
As attention now turns towards Beijing 2022, the International Ice Hockey Federation says it’s considering expanding the women’s winter Olympic Games tournament from eight to ten teams, one of which it hopes will be the unified Korean team. IIHF president René Fasel said China had requested an additional two slots, in line with the next Women’s World Championship. However, the best women in the world may again be left without their NHL counterparts, as NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference last week: “I don’t know that we want to go to China.” The league had previously intimated that China was one of its top global priorities following the launch last year of the NHL China Games, but Bettman said disruption to the season was more important than location. He did, however, say the league would be happy to go to the Summer Olympics, noting that ice hockey was originally part of the summer schedule. That might suit Kenya in their unlikely attempts to qualify for Beijing.
AC Milan owner denies bankruptcy claims
AC Milan’s Chinese boss Li Yonghong has referred to reports he has entered bankruptcy as “fake news”, saying he’s been the target of an unfair campaign since acquiring the club from former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi in a deal worth €740m ($915m). In a detail-free statement, Li declares that “the situation concerning my assets is safe and sound and that both the Club and my companies are steadily working”.
Also this week:
- Chinese private equity firm Orient Hontai Capital has closed its deal to take a controlling interest in Imagina, parent company of the Mediapro agency, whose probe by Spanish authorities has ended.
- With Joe Tsai’s Brooklyn Nets deal reported to close soon, the team has started to sell Mandarin-language Jeremy Lin jerseys.
- Fifa World Cup sponsor Mengniu signs Messi as its new brand ambassador.
- Chinese investment bolsters Phoenix’s MLS ambitions.
- The Chinese city of Nanjing lands hosting rights to the women’s FIVB Nations League Finals.
And some further reading:
- With the Pyeongchang Games closed, the focus has turned to Beijing in 2022:
- Business Insider looks at how China plans to train its athletes to a sufficient standard in four short years, while the Associated Press reports its gold or nothing for 2022.
- The Wall Street Journal says China’s approach to its second Games is more low-key this time.
- Agence France Presse speaks to the residents inconvenienced by the new infrastructure.
- CNN outlines the wider challenges in raising public interest in winter sports.
- The NFL targets Chinese audiences with Kris Wu’s Super Bowl appearance.
- An unusual pairing of China’s national sport and the New York Philharmonic.
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.