What’s next for China’s sports industry amid Asian Games cancellation?


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Mark escapes Beijing, leaving the ghost town that PEK airport has become (0:18), while the city of Beijing slips into a lockdown in all but name (2:03). China’s COVID policy has devastated the growth of sports at a time when it should be booming (3:00). The Asian Games are postponed – they simply don’t have the same political significance of the Olympics (4:45). Could they, or the twice-postponed World University Games, realistically be held next year, given the current restrictions (7:30)? Meanwhile, there’s some good news about China’s hockey teams: both the men’s and women’s teams have won promotion in their groups at the World Championships, keeping the majority of the “heritage players” who featured at the Olympics (9:13).

Our guest this week is Zhang Ting, a sports industry expert who spent a decade with sports recruitment firm SRi. (11:41) Now with UFC in Shanghai overseeing business development and sponsorship, Zhang discusses how China’s sports industry can emerge from COVID-19. Zero-COVID has meant incredible challenges domestically, but the fitness industry has provided something of a silver lining (12:50). There’s been a growth in Chinese fitness brands gaining in popularity, in parallel to the growth of the actual industry (15:00).

Zhang then talks about the rise of Chinese sportswear brands, how they’ve been successful, their different strategies, and why some are a real threat to Adidas and others (16:30). But she argues that only the Chinese brands with solid products and sound brand strategies will survive, and not because they have the cheapest products (18:15). Does the rise of new, niche sports present an opportunity for up-and-coming brands (19:23)? What about the positives for the sports industry due to the pandemic — such as the development of the domestic skiing industry — or are they outweighed by the negatives (21:45)?

Next, Zhang discusses her current role with the UFC and how she approaches sponsorship acquisition and monetizing the brand (25:00). She shares some of the challenges she’s faced in her role and explains how the UFC’s brand and the brands of individual fighters can be two very different things (26:03). Dealing with sponsors’ concerns can be a challenge, such as convincing them that the UFC is safe (29:37). She reveals the success she’s had with Chinese brands going global (31:36), and outlines what it takes to be a success in the sports industry (33:13). Finally, Zhang discusses some challenges specific to women in the sports industry in China, as well as some opportunities (36:20).

Make sure to tune in next week for a very special guest (42:53)!