As the sun beat down on China’s ancient capital, the halls, floors, nooks, crannies, corridors and over-worked air-conditioning units of Sina Plaza echoed to the sound of insight, relationship-building and industry tittle tattle as the Beijing edition of the Leaders Sport Business Summit rolled into town for a second showing.
By James Emmett
Sina is one of China’s internet darlings; the creators of Weibo, and, in Sina Sport, one of the country’s leading digital sports content and community platforms – and now a genuine player in China’s burgeoning mass participation event space too. The internet giant’s ‘Beijing Silicon Valley’ headquarters were a fitting setting for a summit with the future of the sports industry as its focus, and the Sina Sports team were generous hosts today to Leaders, and our main partners for the summit in Aspire Zone, Nielsen, and ONE Championship.
Eight is China’s lucky number, and double luckily, there were precisely eight key lessons learned (or at least notated) over the course of an action-packed onstage programme.
1. Scott O’Neil gives good mantra
The Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment CEO – using a keynote slot at today’s summit in Beijing as part of a whirlwind trip to lay some groundwork for his Philadelphia 76ers’ tour of China later this year – is a walking glossary of professionally inspiring ditties. Giving a typically energetic display as he provided a glimpse inside the multi-award winning organisational culture he’s built at HBSE, O’Neil delivered again. “Be where your feet are,” he urged his international audience, and he certainly was where his were. And as China continues to forge a radical new path for its own workforce – balancing the entrenched, opaque government power systems and age-based hierarchies with a burgeoning creative and entrepreneurial young generation of talent – O’Neil’s insight into nurturing young leaders was particularly resonant. 80% of Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment employees are under-25, and O’Neil has worked to ensure the organisation is “Millennial-friendly”, running a wildly popular ‘CEO-for-the-day’ programme – which comes with O’Neil’s assistant, office, and even budget for a day.
2. China is divided and the age of 30 is the borderline
China is the petri dish for the global digital future – we all know that – but, still, nothing beats a good old-fashioned printed pamphlet. The latest Nielsen Sports-Leaders white paper collaboration – a focus, naturally enough, on the changing face of the Chinese consumer and the sometimes startling differences between the habits and attitudes of under-30s and over-30s in the country – was snaffled by all and sundry at Sina today. You can download it for yourself here.
3. China is the key to Discovery’s $2 billion bet on PGA Tour golf
Alex Kaplan, Discovery’s President and GM of golf, explained that the potential of the Chinese market – where golf consumers are significantly younger and tech savvier than anywhere else in the world – makes it by some distance the most exciting territory for the media group to exploit as it goes about joining the business dots behind its gigantic global golf deal.
4. Any conference on the Chinese sports industry is a conference that will reference Yao Ming
Despite not having played professional basketball for almost nine years, Yao Ming is still the brightest star in China’s sporting constellation. Just as basketball bodies – FIBA, the CBA, the NBA – make combined and independent efforts to identify and nurture ‘the next Yao Ming’, so too does any sports organisation worth its salt work to uncover its own Yao Ming. The trend for European-run or branded academies across the country is half marketing exercise, half genuine attempt to invigorate a grassroots culture that has never quite delivered. Chinese consumers, so the conventional wisdom goes, love a star, and so ‘the next Yao Ming’ bingo (Yao Mingo?) will continue at China sports conferences for the foreseeable future. Honourable mention to the WTA, which found their own Yao Ming in Li Na and continue to capitalise long after her retirement, recently signing a record-breaking deal to take the season-ending WTA Finals to Shenzhen from next year.
5. China’s winter sports’ ambition is breath-taking
Large numbers often need context before they hit home. The Chinese government has made the development of a true winter sports infrastructure and culture a national priority ahead of Beijing 2022 and President Xi Jinping’s stated aim of creating 300 million new winter sports participants by the year of the Games certainly sounds a lofty goal. But it’s the context of the fact that there are only 150 million winter sports participants globally at this point that elevates that ambition from lofty to stratospheric. If any country can do it, China can.
6. Is Jisheng Gao the most enthusiastic billionaire in town?
Yes. Southampton’s Chinese owner is a rare breed: admirably open, truly dynamic, and genuinely passionate, Gao was certainly one of the most popular speakers at the summit today. “We’ve had successes and failures at Southampton already,” he said; “but I tell my management ‘I fully trust in you; I give you full authorisation’; I don’t give them any interference just full communication. I spoke to local fans, I spoke at the local university. I thought women were throwing clothes at me, but actually fans were throwing scarves at me. Last year’s ups and downs were a real test, but we’ve proved that we can do that. As a business, you would have to be nervous about relegation because you can lose £200 million, but if you look at this business as the meaning of your life, than you won’t be nervous. Football is my professional belief.”
7. DDMC’s AFC deal
Chinese organisations and individuals have been putting their money where their mouths are for the last few years in terms of international acquisitions – often, it has to be said, paying over the odds for deals that haven’t always worked out. But DDMC’s recent winning bid for the AFC’s next cycle of international commercial rights is a real milestone: a Chinese entity beating out the global rights arbitrage big boys with a package that could see it raise some $2.8 billion for the AFC over the lifetime of the deal.
8. The IOC’s Alibaba deal is about far more than money
Of course it is, but it was useful to have some meat on the bones of what have been only vaguely stated intentions to revolutionise ecommerce and cloud computing across the Olympic Movement. Alibaba’s Leon Xie and the IOC’s Christian Voigt confirmed today that the first iteration of Alibaba’s cloud solution would be ready for Tokyo 2020 – with the real revolutionary stuff ready to roll out for Beijing 2022. As it reaches the grand old age of 19, Alibaba’s leadership has deemed an Olympic showcase to be the most effective way of properly introducing the brand on a global stage and continuing its mission of becoming recognised and trusted outside China. As Voigt neatly put it today: “It was an alignment of the stars on the highest level”.