US-based sports marketing guru Joe Favorito reached out and asked me to do a Q&A for his site on various aspects of the Chinese sports industry. Given that his weekly industry newsletter is distributed to well over 30,000 people, I was more than happy to oblige. Joe published the results in two parts – here and here – which are reprinted below.
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.
Zhou Qi and Wang Zhelin become first Chinese players drafted for nine years, but both face an uphill battle to play in the NBA.
A year ago, ice hockey player Song Andong was touted as China’s next big sporting star after being drafted by the NHL’s New York Islanders, then swiftly promoted as one of the faces of China’s 2022 Winter Olympic Games bid campaign. This spring, it is the turn of two Chinese basketball players, Zhou Qi and Wang Zhelin, who were drafted by the NBA’s Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies, respectively.
After a breathless few weeks during which the entire sporting world has been talking about Chinese football (with yours truly quoted by AFP three times, FT twice, El Pais, Hicimos, Vice Sports and interviewed by CCTV, BBC and Al Jazeera among others), let’s take a look at a few stories that could be cropping up over the next 12 months…
In a few hours’ time, IOC President Thomas Bach will announce either China’s capital, Beijing, or Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty, as the host of the 2022 Winter Olympic Games. Here are some reasons why China should be confident of success – and some reasons to worry:
Why Beijing will win Continue reading Beijing vs Almaty: The Final Countdown
All the talk in this part of the world is how China is bound to win the 2022 Olympics, given that its only rival in this two-horse race is so nondescript that many haven’t even heard of it, let alone be able to place it on a map (for the record, Almaty is in Kazakhstan, only a few hundred miles from the Chinese border).
But there is one very obvious hurdle here: this is a Winter Games, and while Almaty was described in the IOC’s evaluation commission report (ECR) as “a winter sports city, with easy access to the mountains and some world-class winter sports venues”, check out pictures from the same ECR of where China’s bid plans to hold the skiing event:
Lots happened last year – Li Na retired, Sun Yang tested positive, and Chinese soccer continued to suck – but what awaits in 2015? 10 questions for you below…
1. How will China fare at the Asian Cup?
We’ll start with the most pressing questions because China kicks off its Asian Cup campaign on Saturday. Group B – China, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia and North Korea – is a Group of Death only in terms of capital punishment. Alain Perrin has lost just once in 11 games since taking charge last February, but if China fails to progress into the knockout stages, the knives will be sharpened. The days of China finishing 2nd (twice), 3rd (twice) and 4th (twice) in the Asian Cup seem a distant memory, but this tournament will show how much progress has been made under Perrin.
2. Will Zhang Xizhe ever play substantial minutes?
One player who is not in Perrin’s squad is Wolfsburg’s new recruit Zhang Xizhe. The Volkswagen-owned club has already scored a victory following their low-risk, 1.5 million euro signing, with the VW logo on Zhang’s jersey beamed all over China just from a few training sessions. Cynics say that this was precisely the point of the transfer, and the only way to prove them wrong will be if Zhang sees substantial minutes on the pitch – but it won’t be easy to break into a side that currently sits second in the Bundesliga.
3. Who will replace Li Na?
Remarkably, it was less than a year ago when Li Na won her second major title at the Australian Open, but her retirement offers a huge opportunity to whoever is ready to take over at the top of Chinese tennis. Peng Shuai (22), Zhang Shuai (61) and Zheng Jie (95) are the three Chinese players currently in the Top 100, but with another seven in the Top 200, plus youngsters like Youth Olympics singles champ Xu Shilin waiting in the wings, it’s a question of when – not if – we see the next Top 10 player. The men not so much…
4. Which city will be awarded the 2022 Winter Olympics?
Just Beijing and Almaty are left in the running, with the result due to be announced on July 31. Almaty is a stronger bid than it’s given credit for, but Beijing remains a firm favorite in this two-horse race. Sub-question: will the Games clash with the 2022 World Cup?
5. When will Stephon Marbury make the jump into coaching full-time?
He’s made no secret of the fact he wants to coach in China and has already taken up some coaching roles, while continuing to lead on the court. But Marbury turns 38 in a few weeks and can’t play on forever, even though his contract will keep him in the capital until 2017. He’s been named both an honorary and a model citizen of Beijing, so he would seem the perfect role model to lead the Ducks in a more official capacity.
6. Who will be the next major winner from China?
While the tennis scene is looking healthy, it’s more likely China’s next major winner will be a golfer. 25-year-old Feng Shanshan has already won the 2012 LPGA Championship, but watch for teenagers Cindy Feng Yueer, Janet Lin Xiyu and Feng Simin to soar up the world rankings now that they will all be on the LPGA Tour this year.
7. Which male golfer will emerge from the pack?
Guan Tianlang made global headlines by making the cut at the Masters as a 14-year-old in 2013. He may well go onto to have a stellar career, along with a whole crop of other promising Chinese teenagers, but 19-year-old Li Haotong is leading the way at the moment. He won three of the final four PGA Tour China tournaments to top the order of merit and earn a card for the Web.com Tour. Keep an eye on him this year.
8. Can Ding Junhui win the World Champs?
While golfers and tennis players have four majors to contest each year, for snooker players it’s all about the World Championships. Ding Junhui set records on his way to becoming world number 1 last year, but until he can win the big prize, he won’t truly have fulfilled his potential. Chinese sports fans will be glued to their TVs in April to see if he can do it.
9. Will Sun Yang remain China’s dominant swimming star?
2014 was not a good year for Sun Yang after testing positive for a banned substance and then appearing to be involved in the mother of all cover-ups. Note I said appearing, because whatever CHINADA and WADA said, it did not look at all good for China’s top sporting star. He has talent to burn, but was overshadowed in the pool by both Ning Zetao and Chen Duo who each won more golds (4) at the Asian Games than Sun (3). Rio in 18 months will still be the main yardstick, though.
10. Will China ever take to boxing?
Listen to boxing promoters (and, unfortunately, western journalists all too happy to print without fact-checking) and you would think that literally hundreds of millions of Chinese sports fans avidly tune in to watch two-time Olympic champ Zou Shiming knock down a series of tomato cans. The truth is more like two million (at a push). This year, though, he will finally fight for a world title, so the stakes will be real for the first time. If he wins, will the sport take off? I’m less and less convinced…
What would you like to see happen in 2015? Feel free to leave your questions or predictions in the comments section below.
When it comes to the 2022 Olympic Games, FIFA – not the IOC – is holding the joker in the pack. And that Joker is far closer to Heath Ledger’s dark portrayal of the character than anything that faintly resembles amusement.
With the Nanjing Youth Olympic Games (YOG) drawing to a close earlier this week after receiving little to none global attention, the few people who were watching have been debating the merits of the spectacle. In general, those who were there appear to have been won over by the Chinese penchant for ‘Bigger is Better’, while those who weren’t were more than happy to pile on.