Money is often thought of as synonymous with power and influence – in sports as elsewhere – but it’s not often we see such a clear example of a sponsor brazenly attempting to assert their influence as we’ve seen recently in China.
Chinese basketball legend Yao Ming may be best known for his on-court exploits, but he’s now facing a challenge of a very different sort as he looks to reform Chinese basketball. In a Chinese sports version of Bannon vs. Kushner, the big man is battling “the establishment” in order to gain influence behind the scenes. But the obstacles he’s facing may be so entrenched that the entire sports industry in China is affected.
Rumors started to circle earlier this year that Yao Ming would be appointed as the new head of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), and despite resistance in certain quarters – including this editorial from state-run news agency Xinhua which called him too young and too inexperienced [link in Chinese] – he seemed the obvious candidate.
A second division Spanish club taking a small stake in a third division Chinese club won’t make global headlines, but it could see the start of a wave of foreign investment in Chinese football, now that outbound acquisitions have effectively been stopped.
A year ago, Chinese companies were rushing full steam ahead to invest in – or buy outright – soccer clubs from around the world. From Aston Villa and West Brom to Espanyol and Inter Milan, the first waves of investment appeared to herald many more deals. This headline in The Telegraph from September last year, for instance, claimed that another 30 Chinese billionaires were looking to buy clubs.
How quickly things change.
A large contingent of NHL executives made the trip out to China this week to announce the league’s first initiatives in the country: preseason games between the LA Kings and the Vancouver Canucks in Shanghai (Sept 21) and Beijing (Sept 23), kicking off an eight-year slate of games, which could be upgraded to regular season match-ups as early as 2018. Let’s take a look at some of the factors that might help the NHL in China, as well as the obstacles that lie ahead.
Why hockey will make it in China
1) The timing is right. With less than five years to go to the 2022 Olympics, the government is making a serious push to develop winter sports, and it’s no accident that Chinese President Xi Jinping has been featured in very lengthy segments on the national nightly news touring Olympic venues on more than one occasion this year. As I told the Globe and Mail after the announcement was made, there are actually a lot of indications that the government is moving away from soccer at the moment, and making winter sports its No. 1 priority within the sports industry.
It clearly takes a lot to tempt Italian coaching legend Marcello Lippi out of retirement for one last job, but fortunately for him there are some very deep pockets in China.
While Lippi will be officially announced as the new coach of China’s national soccer team on Friday, reports have revealed that he and his team – of whom former Everton star Li Tie will be a part – will collect 20 million euros annually over an initial two-year term.
Given China’s precarious state in the final round of AFC qualifying – bottom of Group A after four games – it’s less like a final throw of the dice than a refusal to accept that the die has already been cast.
In the video below, China Sports Insider’s Mark Dreyer discusses the Lippi hiring on CCTV News, with Yan Qiang, Tian Wei and Simon Pusey: Continue reading Lippi cashes in on China’s Mission Impossible