Weekly round-up of sports business news from the Chinese sports industry.
Chinese golfer hits top spot
Golf has endured several torrid years in China with a crackdown on both the construction of golf courses and on government officials receiving club memberships due to a perceived link with corruption. But that could all be about to change following the on-course success of some of China’s best players. Feng Shanshan, who was already the first player from mainland China to win a major championship when she won the 2012 LPGA Championship, this week became the world’s top-ranked player for the first time after winning consecutive tournaments on the LPGA Tour. Meanwhile, 22-year-old Li Haotong, who finished third in this year’s Open Championship, this week rose to a career high of 58 in the men’s rankings, just one place shy of Liang Wenchong’s Chinese record set in 2010. With two other players joining the PGA Tour for the first time this year, and a whole host of younger talents poised to make waves in the future, the only question is which male player will be the first to repeat Feng’s major-winning feat.
Alisports supports university sport
Alibaba subsidiary Alisports has signed a 10-year partnership with the Federation of University Sports of China (FUSC) and the China School Sports Federation (CSSF) with a view to promoting campus sports in China. Alisports has also signed a myriad of agreements with international sporting bodies, but its cooperation with the FUSC and the CSSF, which come under China’s Ministry of Education, signify the company’s intent to focus on grassroots sport, rather than the professional end of the pyramid. To that end, Alisports last month acquired the rights to broadcast China’s university basketball league, CUBA. However, while the various leagues and sports under the NCAA banner in the US generate millions of dollars in revenue, it’s unclear how Alisports hopes to make money from its involvement in Chinese collegiate sports, given the vastly inferior infrastructure and earlier stage of development.
Pac-12 China Game players detained
Meanwhile, the Alibaba-backed Pac-12 China Game between UCLA and Georgia Tech made news for all the wrong reasons last week when three UCLA players were detained for shoplifting in Hangzhou, following a visit to Alibaba’s headquarters. To make matters worse, one of the three was LiAngelo Ball, middle son of LaVar Ball, the man behind the Big Baller Brand and arguably the loudest mouth in American sports today. While eldest son Lonzo was back in Los Angeles playing for the Lakers, LiAngelo’s detention didn’t stop dad and youngest son, LaMelo, from continuing to film the family’s reality TV show in China, while opening Big Baller pop-up stores in Shanghai and Hong Kong. LiAngelo remains in Hangzhou along with Cody Riley and Jalen Hill, and while the trio are expected to be expelled from China shortly, the potential damage to the family brand could be much longer lasting.
DFB pens Chinese partnership
Further strengthening the footballing links between China and Germany that were cemented earlier this when President Xi Jinping visited Frankfurt to mark the first Chinese-German Football Summit, with the German FA (DFB) agreeing a deal with Chinese investment firm CICFH to help develop China’s youth training set-up. The DFB will help with training, scouting and player development in China, while also helping to set up a competitive system and develop football culture. China has signed several memoranda of understanding with football associations around the world, but appears to have selected Germany – the only country with which China has signed a government-level football agreement – as its preferred footballing nation of choice.
Provinces line up for World Cup
More than 10 Chinese provinces have said they are keen to host World Cup football matches assuming, of course, that China wins its much-anticipated bid to host the tournament at some point. Twenty of China’s 30-plus provinces have revealed their own soccer reform plans, of which 13 have declared their interest in hosting international events, including potential World Cup games. Under national soccer reform plans that were announced in March 2015, bidding for the World Cup is one of the country’s goals. However, under Fifa’s current rotation policy, China cannot bid to host until 2034, given that AFC neighbour Qatar will host the tournament in 2022, although in special circumstances – or a change in policy – there might still be a possibility for China to host an earlier edition.
Report lifts lid on European football investment
Meanwhile the Financial Times has published a special report looking at the investment made by Chinese owners into European football clubs, particularly in the West Midlands. However, given the shifting winds in government policy, investors who originally sought to “win political capital and favourable financing for supporting the football ambitions of [Chinese President] Xi [Jinping]” are now “fearful”, with one investor adding his peers now “want to downplay our involvement in overseas football”. Reporter Ben Bland also visited Chinese Super League club Guangzhou R&F to show first-hand in this video how the sport of football is growing in China.
Tencent snaps up stake
Chinese gaming and streaming platform Tencent has acquired a 12-per-cent stake in Snap Inc, the parent company of social media platform Snapchat. Seen as a collaborative move, with Snap chief executive Evan Spiegel identifying it as a chance for his firm to learn from Tencent, Snap has recently stepped up its sports focus. Last month, Snap signed a content deal with Eurosport in a bid to engage younger audiences during next year’s winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, while ESPN signed a two-year deal to bring SportsCenter to the Snapchat platform.
Also this week…
- The Chinese Basketball Association agrees a sponsorship deal with Lihon Petrochemical.
- Ahead of its China debut later this month, the UFC updates its partnership with Chinese broadcast platform PPTV.
- Wrestling star Triple H says the WWE will focus its revenue growth plans on China and India.
- Tencent Sports becomes the exclusive streaming partner and media sponsor of the Chinese Skating Association.
- An unnamed Chinese company reportedly comes to the rescue of the Samoa Rugby Union.
And some further reading...
- A look at former Gaelic footballer and manager Jim McGuiness now pulling the strings at Chinese Super League club Beijing Guoan.
- Chinese travellers are increasingly heading overseas to hit the slopes, as China’s winter sports industry flaunts its Olympic ambitions.
- Canadian filmmakers get unprecedented access to North Korea’s ice hockey programme.
- Chinese website Sixth Tone goes behind the screens at the League of Legends tournament, while an ESPN writer compares the gaming showpiece in Beijing to the 2008 Olympics.
- Kung fu star Jet Li reveals his plans to bring tai chi to the Olympics.
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.