Letter from China: Chinese sports industry poised to flourish as fitness passion grows

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Xinhua, March 22, 2024
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by Xinhua writer Shi Hao

BEIJING, March 22 (Xinhua) -- I usually cast no more than a glance at flyers distributed on the street, but a leaflet caught my attention days ago just when I finally made a resolution to do some exercise after a winter of laziness and gluttony.

The leaflet revealed that a large gym just a 10-minute walk from my home is set to open next month. This surprised me since there are already at least two fitness clubs in my neighborhood, providing a whole range of services and activities.

However, Zhou Mo, who was distributing the flyers, seemed pretty confident about the prospects of the new gym. "There is competition because there is a market. We will stand out because of our competitiveness," she explained.

The fitness market is indeed gigantic and is expected to grow even further. Official data showed that there were some 117,000 fitness facilities of various kinds across China with 69.75 million paid members by December 2023. The majority of these members were in the 26-35 age group, while data also revealed an increase in the number of elderly people who were working out.

With the country's middle-income group still growing, it is only natural that more Chinese are embracing exercise and leisure as lifestyle choices to help them keep fit, have fun and expand social contact, according to Zhang Qing, a sports industry expert.

Raw coffee beans trader Ma Xiaozhang had a passion for volleyball at college and turned into a jogger after graduation. Now she is crazy for Muay Thai and takes five to six classes every week. "I just love sports! I don't go to my Muay Thai club every day only because my body has to rest," she told me.

My friend, Ms Wang, has enormous enthusiasm for cycling. She rides at least 100 kilometers almost every weekend and there are more than 400 others like her in her cycling club.

Riding bicycles has become a new fashion trend in the "kingdom of bicycles." Data released by the China Bicycle Association in September 2023 showed that there were more than 200 million bicycles in the country and that about 30 out of every 100 trips in urban areas were made by bicycle.

Running is another very popular trend in China, with many joggers describing their love for running as "addictions." Earlier this month, nearly 100,000 people signed up for the 2024 Beijing Half Marathon -- a record for the event. It is also common to see runners traveling to various cities across China to participate in marathons.

In addition to sports traditionally loved by Chinese, the likes of skiing, skateboarding, surfing, Frisbee, sport climbing and flag football are also rapidly gaining popularity. According to my observation, every sports fan in China today can find others in the country who enjoy the same type of sport, no matter how specialized the activity is.

This nationwide passion for fitness not only delivers health benefits and enjoyment to participants, but also boosts consumption and creates business opportunities.

Ma spends about 1,800 yuan (254 U.S. dollars) a month on her gym and Muay Thai club, while Ms Wang has invested a total of over 100,000 yuan in bicycles and other riding gear.

Taiwan bicycle brand Giant recently unveiled a new bicycle model selling at 338,000 new Taiwan dollars per unit. Shortly after its debut, the company received more than 40,000 orders from the Chinese mainland despite the high price.

Meanwhile, burgeoning bike makers from China's mainland keep upgrading their products in an attempt to woo more riders and seize a larger share of the booming market.

Riding the wave, domestic producers of derailleurs, which are core components and the most profitable parts of a modern bike, have intensified research and development efforts, and are now providing consumers with high-quality, yet inexpensive, alternatives to leading Japanese and U.S. brands.

"Opportunities for China's sports industry to thrive have indeed emerged," Zhang said, adding that the key is to make efforts on the supply side -- enterprises should strengthen innovation and supply the market with better-quality products and services.

In his view, sports equipment and wearable devices for exercise purposes offer the greatest future business opportunities, while sports drinks, supplements and related food will also be lucrative.

Some department stores and supermarkets have set up the likes of climbing or skating facilities, or parents-kids playgrounds, so that shopping, dining and sports can complement one another in attracting more people for the benefit of all. Zhang called it "the sportifying of commercial spaces" and deemed it a promising trend.

Gao Zhidan, director of China's General Administration of Sport, said that efforts will be made this year to promote the upgrading of sports enterprises and encourage them to come up with products and services that cater to the diverse needs of customers.

He also pledged action to expand access to fitness and leisure services, promote investment in the sports industry, and protect the rights and interests of consumers.

According to a development plan for the sports sector in the 2021-2025 period, the total production value of China's sports industry is expected to reach 5 trillion yuan by 2025, with sports consumption exceeding 2.8 trillion yuan.

In its Global Sports Survey (7th Edition) China Report, global auditing and consultancy firm PwC said that China's sports industry has great potential for future growth and will move steadily towards higher quality, improved efficiency and greater sustainability.

PwC also suggested that China's sports industry should engage an increasing number of professionals with expertise in both sports and commerce.

Of course, I am not one of those professionals, but I have decided to give the new gym a try, and am hoping to finally learn to swim. Anyway, the first 288 members will enjoy a 50-percent discount, so best to join as soon as possible! Enditem

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