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China Digest | China edges toward legal betting

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

China edges toward legal betting
China moved one step closer to legalising betting over the weekend, announcing plans to encourage horse-racing and explore the development of sports lotteries in the island province of Hainan. Long billed by officials as China’s answer to Hawaii, Hainan will also see further development in beach and water sports. Macau is currently the only place in China where casino gambling and sports betting are legal, but has seen revenues plummet in recent years amid a government crackdown on the Special Administrative Region. Gambling is officially banned everywhere else in China, although two forms of sports lotteries are allowed, including one where players predict international football scores. Betting on horse-racing is banned everywhere outside of Hong Kong, meaning that, while there are racetracks across the country, the sport has never really flourished on the mainland.

F1 works on Chinese joint venture…
Formula One says it’s in talks with a variety of potential partners over a new Chinese venture. After Reuters last week cited sources saying F1’s owner, Liberty Media, has held talks with DDMC and Suning, commercial managing director Sean Bratches confirmed the joint venture would have its own marketing, licensing and media-rights arms and that F1’s partnership with local race organizer Juss Events would expand in the future, even as other entities are brought on board. Bratches also said Liberty was keen on adding a second Chinese race to the calendar, although that scenario is thought to be several years away.

…and adds Tencent as a media partner
In other motor racing news, Formula One has added Tencent as a new digital media partner in China, with races broadcast live across a variety of Tencent-owned platforms. This comes in addition to the deals the series already has in place with national broadcaster CCTV as well as regional broadcasters Guangdong TV and Shanghai TV. Meanwhile, two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso has announced plans for his karting school to build 40 go-kart tracks and a handful of driving academies in China over the next five years. Alonso said the aim of the initiative, which is sponsored by Tencent and Shanghai Yiqian, is to find the next Chinese F1 driver.

Investment claims boost shares in LeEco owner
Shares in troubled tech firm Leshi rose by the daily trading limit of 10 per cent on Tuesday following reports that Evergrande boss Xu Jiayin has invested in the Faraday Future electric car venture, which is headed by Leshi founder Jia Yueting. Leshi is the listed wing of LeEco, whose LeSports subsidiary lost a plethora of high-profile streaming rights last year after failing to pay its creditors. Jia has refused to return to China since many of his assets were frozen several months ago and is living in the US, where Faraday Future is based. It is not yet known whether this new investment comes from Xu himself or from his real estate firm, which owns reigning Chinese Super League champions Guangzhou EvergrandeTaobao.

LFP agrees to play Trophée des Champions in China
The French Football League (LFP) has struck a six-year deal with Kaisa Culture Sports and Tourism Group that will see three editions of the Trophée des Champions staged in the Chinese city of Shenzhen, along with wider promotion of the top-tier Ligue 1 in China. The agreement was brokered by the Lagardère Sports agency and will see the 2018 and 2019 tournaments – a one-off match between the Ligue 1 champion and the Coupe de France winner – take place in Shenzhen, along with one further edition at some point before 2023. Hong Kong-listed Kaisa Group has previously helped organize the Shenzhen Open tennis tournament, the NBA’s China Games and the International Champions Cup pre-season club football competition. 

Chinese investors eyeing Club World Cup?
In one of the more ambitious deals of the year, Fifa says an expanded Club World Cup could be commercially viable if it generated at least $650m (€522.5m). The current competition, which is sponsored by Alibaba’s Cloud division in a deal slated to run until 2022, is held annually, although the proposed new format would begin in summer 2021 and be staged every four years. Reports have said unknown investors from the United States, Saudi Arabia and China have been examining proposals for the new format, though so far only Japanese firm SoftBank – which was an early investor in Alibaba – has been publicly named.

Also this week
Alibaba co-founder Joe Tsai’s purchase of a 49-per-cent stake in the Brooklyn Nets has been formally completed
Chinese door manufacturer TATA extends its backing of the ITTF World Championships.
The International Wushu Federation renews a deal with Chinese sports equipment manufacturer Taishan.
Diesel Jeans names Chinese swimming star Ning Zetao as a brand ambassador.

And some further reading
China gives Olympic ski dreams a lift in some more remote regions.
The American woman looking to revolutionize Chinese hockey – on and off the ice.
A reminder that regional politics are never far away in China, as authorities detain a pro footballer from the far western province of Xinjiang for training overseas.
Preparations for the 2022 Beijing Olympics are already underway – and that includes a campaign to clean up badly-translated signs

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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