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China Digest | Tencent adds MLB rights to complete major league set

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

Tencent adds MLB rights to complete major league set

Chinese tech giant Tencent has completed its set of the four US major leagues, after acquiring the rights for Major League Baseball in a multi-year deal. Tencent will live stream 125 games per season, including the All-Star Game and the playoffs. Tencent, which surpassed Facebook in terms of market cap towards the end of last year, will also show some of the league’s highlights programmes, including a Chinese version of This Week in Baseball. It has also been tasked with developing and hosting an MLB Fan Club where Chinese fans can discuss all aspects of the sport. Tencent signed a five-year deal with the NBA in 2015 thought to be worth up to $700m, agreed a five-year partnership with the NHL a year ago and inked a three-year contract with the NFL last August.

Alisports raises RMB1.2bn funding

Alisports – the sports arm of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba – has raised RMB1.2bn (€153.3m/$189m) in Series A funding, with investment fund Yunfeng Capital – co-founded by Alibaba founder Jack Ma – leading the way. China Taiping Insurance Holdings also participated in the round, which valued Alisports at more than RMB8bn. Alisports also last week announced its first acquisition, buying online fitness and activity brand LeDongLi. The Beijing-based firm claims 55 million users across three areas – running, fitness and weight loss – after starting life in 2012 as a step-counter app. It recently announced plans to move offline into the fitness center business later this year.

Chinese rugby investment on hold

Alisports’ proposed $100m investment in rugby has been put on hold after World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper admitted that progress in developing the sport in China had been slower than expected. Gosper told the South China Morning Post that the partnership had been paused until there is greater clarity over who was leading rugby in the country. An administrative reshuffle appears to have caused the confusion with Alisports, the Chinese Rugby Football Association and China’s Sports Ministry all involved to varying degrees. Gosper also claimed there were 30 million rugby fans in China – equal with the US as the most in any country – a figure he said had been measured “through research and so on”.

Ligue 1 gets on CCTV

France’s Ligue 1 will be broadcast on Chinese state broadcaster CCTV until the end of the 2020-21 season, after a deal was signed between CCTV, the French Professional Football League (LFP) and its global rights-holder beIN Media Group. After airing several games from the current season plus the French Super Cup – set to be held in Shenzhen on August 4 – CCTV will broadcast live two matches per round from next season across its platforms. The LFP opened an office in China last year and last month staged a 1pm game between PSG and Nice, the earlier kick off designed to appeal to an Asian TV audience.

Aussie Rules expands Chinese presence

The Australian Football League – or Aussie rules – has expanded its presence in China via broadcast deals with three local TV stations. Following last year’s clash in Shanghai between Gold Coast Suns and Port Adelaide Power – the first regular-season AFL game to be played outside of Australia or New Zealand – the same two teams will square off in Shanghai next month, with the game broadcast live on Guangzhou TV, Shanghai TV and Shandong TV. Guangzhou TV, a city-level station in Guangdong province – but not to be confused with the much larger Guangdong TV – will also air 23 AFL games this season, of which 11 will feature Port Adelaide, plus a weekly Chinese-language highlights and preview show.

Three Chinese golfers tie up with WeChat

Tencent’s WeChat social media platform has announced sponsorship deals with three rising Chinese golfers. World number 42 Li Haotong, PGA Tour member Dou Zecheng and two-time Ladies European Tour winner Lin Xiyu will represent WeChat as part of a drive to introduce the brand to overseas consumers. Li, who last month agreed a sponsorship deal with Adidas, played all four rounds at Augusta last week sporting the WeChat logo on his cap, marking the company’s first foray into the world of golf, (WeChat has previously sponsored football stars Messi and Neymar). In February this year, Tencent said the combined number of monthly active users of Chinese-language Weixin and its English-language equivalent WeChat exceeded one billion.

Also this week

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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