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‘Team China’ brand sets high partnership price, targets $400m in quadrennial revenue

Chen Guiming of China competes at the Ready Steady Tokyo - Weightlifting, Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games test event (by Toru Hanai/Getty Images)

  • New, unified brand covers Chinese national teams for various sports and multiple events
  • Five to seven sponsorship categories priced at 200m-400m yuan
  • Bottled water brand C’estbon Beverage, owned by state-owned conglomerate China Resources Group, signs on as first partner

Last week, China’s General Administration of Sport launched ‘Team China’, a collective brand for all China’s Olympic and Paralympic sports teams.

Like the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee’s Team USA trademark, Team China brings a broad set of commercial assets into central control. Though its primary aim is more effectively and equitably raising funds for Olympic athletes, its intention is to broaden the interest of sponsors.

“Team China is not just an alias of the Chinese Olympic delegation,” says the GAS documentation. “The brand conveys exclusiveness and unified identity. It is an integrated and independent property that is no longer strait-laced by the Olympic Games and the TOP programme (by the International Olympic Committee).”

The call-for-proposal documentation predicts that the influence of the Team China brand will exceed the “singular Olympic market” by a big margin. Before 2026 and besides the Olympics, there will be hundreds of world, continental, and national games in which Chinese national teams will participate under the Team China brand.

The GAS brief concludes that the Team China brand provides “much more salient marketing values” than the Olympics.

Partnership offering

Sponsorship opportunities under Team China cover only elite sport. Partners will have the right to use the title and names of Team China and its Chinese translation, ‘Zhongguo Guojia Dui’, plus 73 national teams, including women’s volleyball, table tennis, swimming, football and basketball.

The sponsors can use official images and marks on product packaging and promotional materials. Via additional fees and individual consent, they may invite Team China athletes to be present at promotional activities and productions.

Abudushalamu Abudurexiti warming up ahead of a game for China (Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

According to SportBusiness sources, exclusive partnerships will be awarded in between five and seven categories of up to 15 candidate categories, which include dairy and related food, Internet service, telecoms, airlines, travel, real estate, hotels and catering, automobile, drinking water and beverages, insurance, electric appliances, domestic chemicals and cosmetics, and nutrition and health products.

Partnerships will be priced in the range of 200m-400m yuan ($28m-$56m) for each of two four-year terms, 2019-2022 and 2023-2026, with contracts covering both terms as standard.

Team China projects marketing revenues of up to 2.8bn yuan ($400m) in cash and value-in-kind over each four-year term.

The high entry price and prolonged commitment limits the number of suitable sponsors, and Team China has issued targeted invitations. “Team China is only interested in talking to companies with annual business turnover of 20bn yuan to 30bn yuan,” the source says. “Usually only large-scale state-owned enterprises can tick this box.”

The first signatory is one such enterprise: state-owned conglomerate China Resources Group, which owns a variety of businesses in Hong Kong and mainland China. It’s subsidiary, China Resources Beverage, has signed on to promote its key product, C’estbon bottled water.

C’estbon ranks second in the Chinese drinking water market, with 22 per cent of the market and total sales of 14bn yuan in 2018. It will provide funding, drinking water, sports drinks and other non-alcoholic beverages to Team China athletes. The company, based in Shenzhen, announced it would develop new products for Chinese national team athletes, including upgrading its sports drinks brand Magic, next year.

Ending Anarchy

The Team China programme implements GAS’s mandate to centralise and systematize commercial rights around Chinese national sport, which have been a tangled mess for decades.

This was best illustrated by the chaos at the 2018 Asian Games, when swimmer Sun Yang refused to be seen wearing awarding ceremony tracksuits made by Anta, the official sponsor of the Chinese delegation, in order to protect his own deals with 361 Degrees.

“Conflicts of interests are inevitable if associations, teams, and athletes continues to control their commercials,” says Professor Li Shengxin of the Beijing Sports University. “The Team China programme means to end the status of anarchy.”

GAS will in principle let existing deals continue until expiration. In its 2018 drafting stage, the GAS proposed to buy out those which ran too long to be tolerable, but this detail was not contained in the official launch brief.

There will be much to unpick. The day after the C’estbon-Team China partnership was announced, Haier Air Conditioner, a business unit of electric appliance giant Haier Group, announced a direct deal with the Chinese women’s volleyball team.

Shao Ting of Team China reacts during the International match between the Australian Opals and China at AIS on September 17, 2019 in Canberra, Australia. (Photo by Tracey Nearmy/Getty Images)

Among China’s most popular teams, it has 13 existing partners – one of whom, Ganten Water, is a direct competitor against C’estbon.

According to the 2018 initial plan, 80 per cent of Team China revenues will finance the training and preparations of various national teams, for the Olympic competitions, and compensate the costs of contractual severance with sponsors who clash with the programme’s exclusivity terms. Team China will spend the remaining 20 per cent in brand building, sponsor services, and media-rights development.

All teams who qualify for Olympics will receive a share of the sponsorship money proportional to their Olympic weights. This will benefit some Olympic Winter Game events when China strives to participate in all events in Beijing 2022 and some of the less followed summer events, such as women’s hockey.

“This is an egalitarian plan for the most popular teams not to take all and for the commercially marginalised events to benefit from being under the Team China umbrella,” says Professor Li. “You can basically call it a poverty-relief marketing programme.”

Individual rights

The programme does not govern the individual commercial activities of athletes, except for prohibiting them using the Team China identity and titles. By law, athletes own their own image rights.

The source says the Team China programme may leave room for athletes to be individually sponsored for apparel, including shoes, caps, head and wrist bands. But no details have been officially announced.

And it does not seem to be a matter of urgency. “We acknowledge that the IOC just re-wrote the Rule 40,” the source says. “But in China no one is telling athletes about it, nor have any athletes asked about it.”

For most Chinese athletes, the point at which they can monetise their individual value is in winning an Olympic medal. In practice, other than Sun Yang – whose own brand has been tarnished by doping controversy – few individual Chinese athletes are any position to claim any Rule 40 rights.

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