One canceled golf tournament might not, at first glance, seem like a huge deal, but a worrying trend of overreaching has dogged Alisports since its inception – and the cracks are starting to show.
Imagine it’s October 2016 and you’re the LPGA. You’ve just signed a ten-year deal with Alisports, giving them ownership rights of your most important tournament in China. All the usual cliches spring to mind – growing the game, millions of new fans, next generation of golfers etc – and you’re feeling pretty pleased with yourselves. It’s Alibaba – they’re one of the biggest companies in China, they know China, Jack Ma is basically Steve Jobs, they’ve got trillions of users etc. What could go possibly wrong?
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.
Alisports, the sports wing of Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba, last year announced a $150 million investment into eSports through a partnership with the International eSports Federation (IeSF). That was followed up by a 10-year deal to promote the Chinese city of Changzhou as an eSports hub, with the city set to host a number of World Electronic Sports Games (WESG) events, offering total prize money of $5.5 million, while another Chinese city, Suzhou, was also designated by Alisports as a major international sports city, with eSports also a central part of that aim.
I spoke to Sky Sports reporter Johnny Phillips last week for a piece he did on the increasing amount of Chinese investment directed at English football clubs in recent weeks. Editors being as they are, only a few selected highlights appeared in the finished article, but we covered a lot of ground, so here is an uncut version (completed shortly before the Wolves deal – the latest of the Chinese takeovers – was announced), touching on why rumours spread so quickly, West Brom’s possible owner and his plans for world domination, Sven spouting nonsense and why Wolves fans are probably sleeping better than Villa ones at the moment.