If you grew up in the UK, as I did, then you’d never confuse the puma-looking logo on a certain type of tennis ball as anything other than Slazenger. Ever since 1902, those distinctive Slazenger balls appear on the equally distinctive grass courts at Wimbledon, replenished every few games like clockwork. (And for the record, it’s a panther, not a puma.)
Similarly, Robinsons fruit cordial might not be the most widespread global drinks brand, but its association with Wimbledon dates back to 1935, although admittedly patrons these days are more likely to be drinking Pimms than a soft drink.
So when Wimbledon — as old school as it gets in the modern world of sport, with its long-outdated white clothing policy and stuffy traditions — signs with Chinese upstart phone brand OPPO, it’s worth paying attention.
That’s what happened this week when OPPO signed a five-year deal with the All England Lawn Tennis Club — Wimbledon’s home — to become the first Asian partner in the tournament’s 142-year history.
Much of the credit for signing this deal, which comes on the back of Chinese tennis legend Li Na’s support just a few weeks ago, has to go to Mick Desmond, the Commercial and Media Director at Wimbledon, who was previously involved in a content and sports rights distribution company focused on the Chinese market, bringing both the “…Got Talent” and “The Voice” series to China.
Desmond told Forbes that two of the key drivers behind this deal were the fact that China’s OPPO also has a huge presence throughout Southeast Asia, including India, and that the company’s target demographic skews younger than some of its rivals.
Additionally, OPPO’s camera has impressed Wimbledon, with the tournament’s official photographers set to use OPPO’s Find X and Reno models this summer.
But throughout the nine-month negotiation process, Desmond also said that OPPO’s previous sports sponsorship deals played a large part.
OPPO — now the world’s fourth-largest smartphone producer — currently sponsors the Indian cricket team in another long-term deal, has partnered with FC Barcelona, and has featured soccer star Neymar in a series of commercials.
Other Chinese brands have used this strategy to great success, with TV brand Hisense seeing a huge uptick in European sales after sponsoring the 2016 European Championships. With OPPO set to help promote Wimbledon in Asia, the joint plan is for Wimbledon to help OPPO build its brand back in Europe.
In fact, the first Chinese brand to embrace this sporting strategy as a means of going global was another smartphone maker, Huawei, although given how the current political winds have embroiled the company in various disputes around the world, OPPO execs will be hoping for a very different fate in years to come.
As a footnote, there was a quaint, posed photo at the signing ceremony, with name cards simply reading Tim, Brian, and Mick.
Some may still recognize English tennis tryer Tim Henman (left), who reached four Wimbledon semifinals in five years before being largely forgotten once Andy Murray actually won the thing twice; only sports industry diehards would recognize Wimbledon exec Desmond (right), and fewer still would recognize Brian Shen (center), VP at OPPO.
Perhaps the cards were meant to be facing the other way so the trio would know where to sit.
Elsewhere in the UK, it was a mixed bag for China’s snooker stars at the World Championships this week.
With a record six Chinese players in the 32-man draw — more than any other country except England — there was plenty of opportunity to progress.
19-year-old Luo Honghao, however, made headlines for all the wrong reasons with a 10-0 blowout loss to Shaun Murphy. Not only was it just the second whitewash in the tournament’s 43-year history, but Luo scored just 89 points across the 10 frames — a whopping 102 points short of the previous low mark.
If the snooker doesn’t pan out, at least he’s still got the piano.
.@WorldSnooker @BBCSport This is worth 30 secs. Just filmed preview with Crucible debutant Luo HongHao. Staggeringly talented teenager. Left home at 13. Toured China to learn snooker accompanied by his Gran. Learnt piano age 4. Amazing. His match is Sun 2.30pm pic.twitter.com/XE3pHDLoJ7
— Rob Walker (@robwalkertv) April 19, 2019
In other action, Li Hang lost 10-1 to Barry Hawkins, while Zhao Xintong was ousted 10-7 by third seed Mark Selby, and Tian Pengfei was agonizingly edged out 10-9 by Shaun Murphy.
But Zhou Yuelong defeated sixth seed Mark Allen 10-7 to set up a second-round clash with Ali Carter, while star man Ding Junhui beat Anthony McGill by a similar score.
Tenth-seeded Ding hasn’t had the best of seasons so far, but if he can get past seventh seed Judd Trump in the second round, the draw could really open up for him.
Mark Selby and Mark Williams — both three-time winners — lost on Saturday, and more crucially, world No. 1 and five-time winner Ronnie O’Sullivan was stunned by amateur player James Cahill in the first round. Cahill was then ousted by Stephen Maguire, who awaits the winner of the Ding-Judd Trump match. Ding may never get a better chance than this.
Ding vs. Trump kicked off in the early hours of Sunday, China time, with the Englishman taking a slender 5-3 lead. It continues later today.
This column has previously referenced the fact that Chinese sportswomen have, on the whole, outperformed their male counterparts — and two more have impressed this week.
Liu Wenbo and Du Mohan, two female golfers from the China LPGA Tour, lined up against the men at this week’s Shenzhou Peninsula Open, a China Tour event in Hainan.
And things have been going pretty well for the teenage stars.
Both made the cut, with Du Mohan, 17, firing a three-under-par 69 on Saturday to stand at tied for 30th place heading into the final round. Liu, 18, is tied for 77th.
Both turned pro last year after winning team bronze at the Asian Games and were able to play in this tournament after receiving a special invitation from the China Golf Association.
Liu is the daughter of former national team volleyball player Cui Yongmei, averages more than 260 yards off the tee, and plans to head to the U.S. later this year in an attempt to qualify for the LPGA Tour.
China’s best golfer, Feng Shanshan, has slipped from the top spot down to No. 22 in the world rankings, but with Du, Liu, and others eager to pick up the slack, it shouldn’t be too long before another top player emerges.
Also this week, China enjoyed Dame Lillard’s series-winning three just as much as the rest of the world:
Chinese call of Lillard's game-winning shot pic.twitter.com/byz7h1mINf
— Mark Dreyer (@DreyerChina) April 24, 2019
And with pitches like this one in Xiamen — next door to the city’s football stadium, no less — sometimes you really have to wonder just how serious China is about promoting the beautiful game:
— Mark Dreyer (@DreyerChina) April 22, 2019