Chinese sports marketers have many lessons from Covid to digest ahead of the Olympics


Two of the world’s best sporting moments are set to fall within a year of each other due to COVID-19: The Summer Olympics, delayed from 2020, are still underway for Tokyo this year, and the next Olympics winter is slated to take place in Beijing in 2022. What can sports marketers looking to tap into China’s large marketplace learn from audience trends since the pandemic began a year ago?

A lot, says Justin Tan, managing director of Shanghai-based digital sports agency Mailman, which counts the National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association among its clients. “Sports marketing professionals will view the pandemic as a pivotal moment in accelerating the digitization of their businesses,” he said in an email interview. “This is certainly the case in China.”

New emerging digital formats for sports properties and more time spent at home have presented new opportunities for brands and the public to connect, Tan said. Examples in China include larger esports competitions such as League of Legends Worlds, as well as new original sports content developed specifically for digital media such as Bundesliga club BVB fan online events via live streaming. , the China Studio show from English Premier League club Chelsea that ties in elements of London with local content. There’s also the World Badminton Federation’s rerun of their historic best matches for digital broadcasts in China, Tan said. (Note: Mailman works with all four.) The already established NBA’s more aggressive direct-to-consumer revenue models extend its media and sponsorship activities. In general, Tan said, the pandemic has generated health awareness that is “a positive for the overall status of the sports industry.”

Overall, sports companies have avoided getting caught up in global geopolitical issues, Tan said. “We believe that sport transcends politics. During the darker days of Covid-19 in China, we saw a surge of support for the Chinese from stars, teams and global sports organizations, ”he noted. “Football teams like PSG have declared their support for Chinese communities affected by the pandemic with messages on their shirts. Other organizations like the NBA and the New England Patriots have donated medical supplies to Chinese hospitals. At the end of the day, we also like to believe that sport improves our lives. Our belief is that the Chinese passion for sports will continue to make the local market an attractive prospect for global sports organizations. “

Tan believes that international sports organizations and athletes who have continued to invest resources in China have benefited from the pandemic year. The NBA, for example, remains the most popular league, its teams and players gaining popularity in Mailman’s annual “NBA Red Card” digital performance index in China. Among individual athletes, Cristiano Ronaldo, with more than 15 million total followers on Weibo and Kuaishou, is already the most popular international footballer on Chinese digital media. Likewise, David Beckham, with 8.8 million followers,

offers original videos on Douyin, the shorthand video platform owned by ByteDance, parent of TikTok. In addition, Chelsea partnered with Weibo and became the first European football club to launch in Kuaishou, just like another English Premier League club Manchester City with Alipay, Tan said. In badminton, the World Badminton Federation is the fastest growing sports organization on Weibo, thanks to the creation of original new sports programming, Tan said.

“China continues to be an iconic market,” he continued. “This means that the biggest sports stars of our generation are very influential in Chinese digital media. A poignant but relevant example would be Kobe Bryant. Despite his passing, he remains one of China’s most revered athletes. We have seen some interesting trends with the new sports competitions in China. The Ultimate Fighting Champion (UFC) mixed martial arts competition had an exceptional 2020, built around the emergence of a local Chinese champion, Zhang Weili, the launch of a cutting-edge brick and mortar performance institute. and a synergistic link. with the Chinese Olympic Committee.

So how should winter sports related companies plan for the Winter Olympics next year? “This is going to be a big moment for China and the sports industries in China. There is a great deal of pride in hosting the Winter Olympics, and the general public and sports fans should take a strong interest in winter sports during and after competition. In fact, winter sports are already experiencing strong growth with the involvement of increasingly active and larger communities, ”said Tan.

Yet interest in winter sports is lower than in all-weather sports such as football and basketball. “China needs better winter sports education. A good example is the National Hockey League, which has created a ball hockey education app that serves as a gateway for ice hockey, ”he said. “Good content goes a long way. Brands that want to get involved would do well to think about their content strategy before the Winter Games and beyond. Currently, the development of winter sports is driven by communities of enthusiasts who organize themselves on social and digital platforms like Tencent’s WeChat. We expect this trend to continue. Brands should seek to invest in local and local communities, including optimizing their CRM strategy and community engagement tactics, ”he suggested.

Finally, Tan stressed the importance of live broadcasting. “New formats such as live streaming which combines content, education, peer advocacy, price promotions and product introductions combine with e-commerce. It’s a great retail format for businesses looking to increase brand awareness and convert their audience to customers, ”he said.


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