Broadcast, China, Digital, Future Trends, Governance & Commercial Growth, Sport Business | Jul 19, 2019 | 4 min read
8 lessons from the Leaders Sport Business Summit, Shanghai.

Leaders’ third visit to China this week coincided with the Premier League’s annual trip to China. The two days of the Sport Business Summit in Shanghai saw senior executives from international organisations like F1, Nike, the Philadelphia 76ers, Manchester City and the NBA mingling with the brightest and best minds in the Chinese sports industry, including senior figures from the China Basketball Association League, PP Sports, Nenking Group, Super Sports Media and Yao Capital.

By David Cushnan

Here are our on-the-ground notes – eight for luck – from the Kerry Hotel.

Like father, like son

First out of the traps and on-stage on day one in Shanghai was the father-son combo of Ma Guoli and Michael Ma, joined by NBA China CEO Derek Chang to discuss the past, present and future of Chinese sports media. Ma Guoli, a veteran of CCTV5, the Beijing 2008 local organising committee and Infront among several others, is a revered figure in the Chinese sports industry. He is currently a special advisor to the Commissioner of the China Basketball Association – a certain Yao Ming – and his views are always highly sought. “Sport in China and elsewhere has to pay tribute to new media,” he opined during the session. “What we don’t know is a very good path to quick returns, by subscription or advertising. In future, it is the bunch of players which have established a business model who will make a mark in the market.” Chang, meanwhile, mused on the power of short-form video as a hook for young Chinese fans, while reporting average viewing figures for NBA games in China last season at 15 to 20 million, with 21 million tuning in for the deciding game six of the finals between Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors.

More ways to feel miserable

Fresh off the early train from Nanjing, where Manchester City played in the Premier League Asia Trophy on Wednesday evening, City Football Group CEO Ferran Soriano deftly fielded questions on a host of topics from Leaders’ Founder Jimmy Worrall. CFG’s network of clubs around the world now numbers seven, with the latest acquisition in China earlier this year. With such a geographical spread of clubs, Soriano’s biggest challenge tends to be Saturdays, when he wakes up early in Manchester and takes in games throughout the day featuring CFG-owned teams in Australia, Japan, England, Spain and the United States. As he puts it: “Every weekend we have seven chances to feel miserable”. He outlined CFG’s global-local model, where central commercial and technical teams support the clubs with off and on-pitch matters. Uniquely, CFG can provide a fan in Melbourne or New York with two offerings: Manchester City and a local club brand, with its own carefully cultivated local feel. As for where might be next, Soriano wasn’t telling other than to confirm that CFG is interested in other markets, adding: “We’re not interested in having 100 clubs; maybe it’s seven, maybe it’s ten.”

Risk and reward in China’s sports media

Super Sports Media CEO Yu Ling Xiao was in animated form on-stage as he riffed on the rising cost of sports rights in China, on Thursday. Highlighting Super Sports’ partnerships with LaLiga and the China national team, he described the “big risk evaluation” required before committing to a long-term deal. While football and basketball rights dominate in China, Yu, when asked to pick out a couple of sports to watch, cited ice skating and skiing as ones to watch, but warned that “content takes a lot of time to mature into a business case”. Meanwhile, ahead of a major launch for media and advertisers later on Thursday, PP Sports’ Ao Ming was on hand to reveal details of the broadcaster’s new three-year deal for exclusive Premier League rights. As editor-in-chief of PP Sports’ output, he is promising a new era for Chinese viewers, with plans for ultra-high definition coverage, multi-angle replays, augmented reality incorporated into studio coverage and virtual reality innovation.

21 sections to go, go, go

Formula 1’s Chloe Targett-Adams must have one of sport’s busiest inboxes, responsible as she is for 21 individual Grand Prix promoters around the world – a mix of government officials, privately-owned firms, marketing agencies and entrepreneurs – and various prospective races. Leaders helped her out by bringing two of those promoters to her, Michael Roche from the Singapore Grand Prix and Michael Gu, from Chinese Grand Prix promoter Juss Events, to discuss how a global sport runs events tailored to a variety of local markets. Gu described how the Chinese Grand Prix team had to relearn what Chinese F1 fans wanted, after the novelty of the first few editions of the race had worn off. That work has resulted in an attendance of 160,000 over three days for this year’s race in April. Roche, meanwhile, will do anything in his gift to help build interest, attention and engagement in a week of entertainment and social events around Singapore’s night race, including hiring the Chippendales in an attempt to attract a greater female demographic to the event.

The purpose of Scott O’Neil

Harris Blitzer Sports and Entertainment and Philadelphia 76ers chief executive Scott O’Neil and his top team have been meeting and greeting all week in various Chinese cities. Part of a packed schedule – O’Neil was live on CNBC two hours after touching down in Beijing on Monday – was a stint on-stage where O’Neil joined Zhong Naixiong, who runs Nenking Group and the Guangzhou Long Lions, for a fascinating session on leadership, culture and management. 80% of HBSE staff are Millennials so O’Neil spends much of his time thinking about how to create the most productive and welcoming environment for a younger workforce, including instilling a ‘culture of purpose’. “That will give us a competitive advantage in the long-term,” he insisted.

A game of skills

The Premier League Football Forum took centre stage on day two of the event, with a strong delegation from the league and the four teams currently in Shanghai competing for the Premier League Asia Trophy pre-season tournament. As Richard Masters, the Premier League’s Interim CEO, pointed out, the Premier League has been staging such tournaments in Asia since 2003 with Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and China among the destinations. Around the four games, in Nanjing on Wednesday and Shanghai on Saturday night, the league has been hosting a variety of events with partners and broadcasters, as well as strengthening relationships with the Chinese Super League and Chinese Football Association. A key focus this week has been the continued development of football in China: the league’s Premier Skills series has trained around 5,000 coaches and referees over the past decade, helping an estimated million young footballers. The standard on display at under-15 and under-12 tournaments staged as part of this trip is understood to have particularly impressed Premier League officials.

Sky’s the limit

Sky Sun, part of the Wolverhampton Wanderers-Fosun Group ownership team, joined Masters on stage for a revealing session on strategies for success in China. Following a seventh-place finish last season, ambitions are growing and while Sun was far too wise to reveal precise targets he did expand on plans to convert Wolves into a lifestyle brand in China. Some 400 individual pieces of clothing and merchandise are being created – “street fashion to attract a young audience” – bearing the Wolves logo, to be sold at the club’s remarkable new megastore in downtown Shanghai, which opened this week, and online via TMall.

Esports goes mobile

The final session of day one saw an injection of energy from Riot Games’ Greater China chief Johnson Yeh and Nike’s Eric Wei, who oversees the brand’s marketing activities in the country. The two organisations have teamed up, with Nike providing kit for Riot’s League of Legends Pro series, but as Wei revealed, there is a strategic objective that goes way beyond mere branding. Nike hopes to target the younger audience attracted by esports with the aim of getting them active and it plans to use key Chinese esports professionals, with their huge online fan communities, to drill home the message over the coming months and years.

To keep up with all the happenings from Day 2 of the Leaders Sport Business Summit – follow #LeadersChina

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