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Five observations for sports business in China

Philippe Blatter
2 min read

Over the past few years, Infront has undergone a transformation, allowing us the best of both worlds – long-term relationships with international sports federations, plus a profound foothold and resources in the Chinese market. Our transformation over the past few years has led to double-digit growth and a dedicated team of over 1,000 – a quarter of which are digital roles.

For me, China is particularly fascinating. I first attended a CBA League game back in 2006, and despite a simple infrastructure, it was obvious that Chinese fans are incredibly passionate. More than 10 years later, the CBA League is the best professional basketball league in Asia, and one of the leading global basketball leagues.

How can we reach this sports-obsessed country? Below are a few trends I have observed in China:

  1. With 1.4 billion inhabitants and 380 million TV households, China is the world's most populated country and biggest TV market. However, a large part of its potential is still untapped, as evidenced by the pay-TV and fixed broadband penetrations of only 60% and 83% of total households respectively. Developing these will be key to the expansion of a market that only counts one main national network – state-owned CCTV – despite more than 30 major provincial TV stations.

  2. However, China is already at the forefront when it comes to digital connection with fans (WeChat, etc.) and the distribution of sport through leading tech companies (Tencent, Sina). These emerging giants have invested heavily in sports rights, to drive subscriptions and promote their other services, incorporating the live streaming of sports into a suite of services: messaging platforms (such as Tencent’s QQ, WeChat or Sina Weibo), retail and e-commerce, smartphones and games.

  3. Technology is therefore central to the growth opportunity for both domestic and international rights holders and brands, with digital players competing for premium domestic and international sports rights to build subscriber and audience bases. Chinese brands can capitalise on the fan's passion and emotions to win credibility and loyalty by aligning with sports. This investment on the sponsorship side leads to the growth of the domestic leagues and continued development and professionalization.

  4. Major sports events remain as key drivers in the market. In the short-term, the focus will continue to be primarily on international rights holders entering the Chinese market – staging events, training camps and tours as well as opening representation offices. Nevertheless, in the longer-term, it is expected that China-based rights holders begin to look outwards. For example, just last year the Chinese Super League (CSL) became the first sports property in the country to launch an official Twitter channel. In addition, more than a dozen major international broadcasters now bring the CSL to fans around the world.

  5. Moreover, as China bids for and wins major international sports events (e.g. 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup, 2019 FINA World Aquatics Championships, Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games and Asian Games), the extensive investment in venues/infrastructure benefits the respective sports in China and the public's ability to access and do sport. This is especially visible in the lead up to the Olympic Winter Games, with winter sports resorts burgeoning across China and winter sports equipment businesses flourishing. Events of this scale massively influence the domestic economy, while also increasing interest and participation in related sports.

Together with Wanda, Infront is incredibly excited to see the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 staged across eight cities in China. Bringing basketball's superstars to such a passionate country, the event is projected to be the biggest FIBA Basketball World Cup ever. It is also the first time China will host basketball's pinnacle event and it is the most high-profile sports event to be held on Chinese soil before the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games.

All eyes are on China – after a decade of sporting momentum, it is now their time to shine. I think it is only a matter of time before they host a FIFA World Cup™.

For further insight, also on the mass participation industry and digital future, take a look at the latest edition of SportsPro magazine

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