China Digest | Sports betting set to be legalised in Hainan

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

Sports betting set to be legalised in Hainan
With sports betting set to open up in the US, things are generally moving in the same direction in China after a recent government directive to develop the industry on the island province of Hainan. However, unofficial sports lotteries have faced scrutiny following a huge rise in traffic during the World Cup, with betting apps closed and operators forced to move to social media. One report says four out of the top 10 free apps in China’s Apple store are related to sports lotteries. Sports lotteries are legal in China, but players must bet with official government lotteries, including the Chinese Sports Lottery. China Sport’s Ministry also launched its own lottery last month in anticipation of increased interest during the World Cup.

iQiyi adds more golf rights to its portfolio
Chinese video platform iQiyi is now in possession of the streaming rights for all four of golf’s major championships, after adding the US Open to its existing portfolio. Launched in 2010 by Chinese search engine Baidu, iQiyi is known far more for its TV and movie offerings, and recently signed a licensing deal with Netflix. But the platform, which listed on the Nasdaq earlier this year, has been steadily growing its sports content in recent months. With additional golf coverage that includes the PGA Tour, WGC-HSBC World Golf Championship and the PGA Tour Series-China, iQiyi is not only challenging the more well-established sports platforms, including Tencent Sports, Suning’s PPTV and Alibaba’s Youku and Tudou, but is also setting itself up in opposition to state broadcaster CCTV, which has a subscription golf and tennis channel.

University football association signs with Adidas
The China University Football Association (CUFA) has signed a new five-year deal with Adidas to help develop university football in China. Founded in 2000, CUFA is the most competitive league among Chinese universities and is the only national 11-a-side tournament officially recognized by the Federation of University Sports of China (FUSC). The league has been run since late last year by Alisports, who also brokered the deal to bring Adidas on board as a title sponsor. Alisports has launched several campaigns to promote university sport in China, with a long-term view of creating something akin to the NCAA environment found in the US. Adidas ambassador David Beckham was present at the signing ceremony in Beijing and also oversaw the opening CUFA Finals game between Beijing Institute of Technology – which also runs a professional side in China League Two – and Ningbo University.

AC Milan’s Chinese owner about to sell up
AC Milan’s Chinese nightmare could soon be over, with reports that two US-based sports groups are in talks to acquire the club from struggling businessman Li Yonghong. The Associated Press says that the Ricketts family, owners of Major League Baseball franchise the Chicago Cubs, are keen to create “a strong bond” with the city of Milan following their proposed takeover, while Italy’s Gazzetta dello Sport says that New York Cosmos owner Rocco Commisso has enlisted the help of Goldman Sachs and is leading the race to buy the club. Li was largely unknown when he bought the club from former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi just over a year ago, but his tenure has been blighted by allegations of financial mismanagement – which could yet see the club thrown out of the Uefa Europa League next season – and concerns over an inability to repay massive loans to US fund Elliott Management.

Suning plans Inter takeover
Meanwhile, the city’s other Chinese-owned team, Inter Milan, is reportedly set to see the back of its chairman – and former owner – Erick Thohir, with Chinese e-commerce group Suning keen to buy the Indonesian’s 30 per cent stake in the club in a bid to gain full control of the club. That would require somewhere between €150m and €200m, though it’s not clear if Suning would be restricted from sending that much money overseas given China’s ongoing capital restrictions, or if Thohir might be given stock options back in China. Inter has also been investigated by Uefa over Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules, though their situation is not nearly as perilous as their crosstown rivals, with the Chinese futures of the two Milan clubs set for total contrast.

Also this week:
•    Manchester City extends its partnership with Chinese lighting company PAK.
•    Real estate developer Foriseland becomes the latest Chinese sponsor of the Australian Open tennis tournament.
•    Beijing-based Pay-TV operator StarTimes acquires rights to the World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) for the African region.
And some further reading:
•    There’s plenty more World Cup coverage this week: some good stats here, some good sponsorship history here, a female fan decries the sexist stereotypes in China and a look at England’s forgotten Chinese international.
•    Ryan Giggs on why the Chinese Super League presents a difficult choice for international players.
•    Can China really manufacture a women’s ice hockey dynasty?
•    With two Chinese sprinters setting PBs on a weekly basis, expect the sponsors to come flocking to the sport.

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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