Ultimate influencers: Frisbee sees boom thanks to Chinese KOLs

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On the show this week, Mark shares his experience on Patrick McEnroe’s podcast (1:02), plus watching live soccer for a change at a Taiwan Mulan Football League game — women’s pro soccer in Taiwan (1:41). Meanwhile, Tencent Sports has laid off 100 people given that there’s no original sporting content to produce these days (3:15), and Tencent’s big boss Pony Ma has been in the headlines for reposting a column critical of COVID zero (5:17). Chongqing’s soccer team pulls the plug after 27 years in existence, leaving the Chinese Super League one team short just days before the start of the season. Reports circulate that players are getting very edgy about payments, too (6:46). Forbes releases its annual list of the Top 50 highest earning athletes — but there’s one key omission with a Chinese connection (10:39)!

Two guests join Mark and Haig to discuss the rise of Ultimate Frisbee, a game that’s been played in China for more than two decades but has exploded in popularity recently thanks to influencers on Little Red Book (小红书 Xiǎohóngshū), China’s version of Instagram. Haig wrote about this in SupChina, a piece approved and edited by SupChina managing editor Anthony Tao. Anthony — a former captain of Beijing’s top ultimate team, Big Brother — and Zoey Tang, current co-captain of Big Brother, joins the discussion (14:03).

Despite his love for the sport, why was Anthony wary about commissioning a piece about Ultimate in China (15:23)? The sport’s recent growth has been dramatic, but some in the sport have mixed feelings (17:35). Ultimate has even featured in commercial breaks during Tencent’s coverage of the NBA playoffs (18:28). Zoey explains when she first began noticing new players — and new media coverage (19:20).

The photos circulating online are something else. The guests try to describe them, but they have to be seen to be believed (20:05). Zoey makes the point that the photos are too unrealistic, primarily because the make-up is too perfect – and that’s not going to work when you’re playing (21:51). So if the photos are the most important thing, do these Ultimate influencers even play the game (22:47)? Little Red Book, or Xiaohongshu, reached out to Zoey in their desire to promote the sport (24:37). But what is this app, and how did it identify frisbee as a new fashion trend (25:42)? Of all the things that could have exploded in China, why Ultimate (26:44)?

It’s great to have new people take up the sport, but Anthony and Zoey explain why it can be unsafe to play with newbies (28:40). More so than many other sports, Ultimate has become a social activity and a way to meet people — with a number of “Ultimate couples” emerging (29:07). But the cost of playing is rising, because of new things like coaching and photography (30:50). There’s a hashtag online for Ultimate, which translates as “Frisbee brings all the joy” — it’s a very positive slogan and has helped to bring even more exposure (34:40).

What is it like coaching and training these new players? For some women, Zoey says, this is the first time they’ve ever played a sport (36:31). Just how big can Ultimate become in China (39:05)? Anthony outlines a little of the sport’s history in China (40:10) and explains why the infrastructure in the U.S. is more advanced than that in China (42:13). Finally, there have been rumblings of Ultimate becoming an exhibition sport at the Olympics, which could boost its popularity further in China (44:00), but the organizational aspects in China could well become political — as has been seen in other sports here — which could, conversely, hinder the sport’s growth.