Sportel Asia: China market fertile ground for new leagues and sports as rights deals set to normalise

The Chinese sports market came into focus during a panel discussion featuring Arthur Wei, Sina Sports, General Manager, and Celine Shi, Alisports, VP, at Sportel Asia. Both had a different perspective as Sina is celebrating 20 years in the sports market this year while Alisports was just launched in 2015.

Both agreed that the rights market in China has become overheated in recent years. PPTV paid 250 million euros ($291.4 million) in 2015 for a 5-year La Liga deal, and in 2017 agreed to pay $700 million for three years of English Premier League (EPL) rights from 2019, and $250 million for five years of Germany’s Bundesliga. And in 2016 Tencent acquired the full Chinese media rights for the National Basketball Association (NBA) on a four-year deal at a cost of $30 million.Wei said that some rights had jumped as much as 200 percent but that it appears that the next round of rights due in the next two or three year might offer some correction with less irrational bidding.

Added Shi: “A high price for rights means both the platform and the media suffers so a more rational and calm rights market is very important to China right now.”

Alibaba has struck deals with the Pac-12 Network, the NFL, and a sponsorship deal with the IOC as the cloud services provider for the Olympics. And in 2016 it took over Youku Tudou, China’s equivalent of YouTube, in a $4 billion bid.

Sina and Ali Sports are also investing in creating their own sports and leagues. With 1.4 billion people, China is prime to give new sports an opportunity to find a real audience.

“Each sport can find its fans and since 2014, when the government removed its ban on commercial games and leagues, companies can start and run their own league and not only sell rights but build the games in China,” says Wei. “If you build a game and people love the game they will want to play the game and then will be your fans forever.”

Sina has established its own 3×3 basketball league that now has 65,000 people playing in 62 cities, making it the largest 3×3 basketball league in the world (it is also expanding to countries beyond China). And Sina has also established the world’s largest 5×5 soccer league and an ice hockey league that is already profitable.

“In 2018 we will have eight different games ranked number one in the world or China,” he says. “And the 3×3 league is now responsible for 17% of our traffic and 214 million viewers last year.”

Another advantage of creating its own sports and leagues is that both Ali Sport and Sina are able to strike deals for TV carriage. Ali Sport’s World Electronic Sports Games continues to grow in popularity around the world as it includes games like Counter-Strike, Dota 2, Starcraft 2, and Hearthstone. Promotional campaigns in Europe, North America, and Asia have resulted in matches all over the world and an international feed that has English commentary and distribution on Fox Sports Asia and other channels.

Shi says that Ali Sports will continue to develop new sports, including winter sports which will become a focus for China given that Beijing will host the 2022 Winter Games. Other sports of interest include MMA boxing and more eSports efforts.

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