August 3rd, 2008

China’s Sports Scene on the Rise

Sunday, August 3rd, 2008

It was a big week if you’re a Chinese sports fan, and the Olympics haven’t even started yet.

Sure, the Games are obviously the thing in China this year, and it’ll be tough for other sports-world happenings to measure up. A couple of items that went largely unnoticed, however, signal China’s growing presence in the sports world and promise to strengthen that presence in the future.

The first move came on Monday, when The Sports Network announced a partnership with Contec Innovations that will place an office in Beijing to act as hub for the development and spread of mobile services.

“The Sports Network’s expansion … provides us with a partnership linking technologies that are without equal while offering the fastest and most accurate sports content for mobiles in the world,” Mickey Charles, president and chief executive officer for The Sports Network, said in a press release.

The plan is for the partners to deliver sports information — stats, results, etc. — on a variety of leagues around the world to mobile phones in China and other areas of southeast Asia. The Sports Network is a wire service supplying real-time sports data and information, which is disseminated by XML Team Solutions to its customers.

A primary focus of the new Far East venture is said to be delivering data from English Premier League soccer, though the major American sports will also be covered. The NBA - thanks to Yao Ming and, to a lesser degree, other players such as Yi Jianlian — should be of particular interest. In addition, the NFL has attempted to make inroads in China in recent seasons, even though it wound up canceling a scheduled exhibition there last season.

Major League Baseball has also targeted China as a potential market for global growth. The Dodgers and Padres played a pair of exhibition games there in March, and regular-season contests can’t be far behind. The league has already opened multiple seasons in Japan and boasts a swelling roster of Far East players.

But international sports making cameos in China is only a small part of the equation. On Thursday, it was announced that American sports-marketing giant IMG Worldwide Inc. had reached a 20-year deal with China’s state-run CCTV.

The goal there is to develop sports and entertainment events throughout the nation, broadcast them on CCTV and sell sponsorship rights. According to the Wall Street Journal, CCTV garners a daily audience of 680 million, the largest in the world.

The venture is actually IMG’s second foray into the Chinese sports market. The company reportedly set up sports leagues back in the mid-1990s in China but left in 2004 when partners there demanded too much money. This time around, the Journal reports, China is more determined to capitalize on the national sports craze brought on by this summer’s Olympics.

To this point, most of the top sports content on CCTV has reportedly been events from outside of the countrey, such as NBA contests, which the network has been airing for 20 years.

So, if you’re a sports fan in China, over the next few years, you should expect to see many more sporting events on TV that feature your countrymen (and women) competing against each other in leagues whose standings you can check on your cell phone.

If you’re a sports fan from somewhere else, you should expect to hear about more such deals in China. The world’s largest market is just now beginning to get tapped.