Chinese sponsors take the lead at Olympics

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China's gold medalists take to the podium in tracksuits designed by Anta Sportswear Group after their victory in the men's table tennis team event at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. WANG DONGZHEN/XINHUA

Chinese athletes excelled at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which ended early last month, even though they competed in empty venues because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite the lack of spectators, the Games drew huge television and online audiences in China, due mainly to the one-hour time difference between China and Japan, and people staying at home to avoid possible infection from new clusters of the virus on the Chinese mainland.

Lou Lei, executive director at consultancy Frost & Sullivan China, said, "Chinese athletes performed well in different competitions at Tokyo 2020."

In recent years, Chinese sportswear companies have also turned in excellent performances, winning increased recognition and confidence among consumers, Lou said.

"Some Chinese brands that were major sponsors for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and provided sportswear and equipment have been highly successful. It is only natural for consumers to connect sports brands with Chinese athletes, thus giving the brands a good reputation when people buy their products," Lou added.

However, Adam Zhang, founder of Key-Solution Sports Consulting, a sports marketing and consulting company based in Beijing, said sponsorship for the Tokyo Olympics was not as active as that for previous Games in terms of promotion and integration of online and offline activities. This was due to the constantly changing situation caused by the pandemic.

With the widespread use of mobile devices to watch the Olympics, relationships between consumers, athletes and sponsors have changed significantly, Zhang said.

"From athletes competing and spectators watching events, to audience participation and content creation, a new togetherness requires more long-term engagement and quick real-time response from sponsors," Zhang said.

Chinese beverage producers including Nongfu Spring and leading sportswear brands such as Li-Ning, Anta and Peak were among the sponsors.

Sportswear giant Anta Sportswear Group, an official partner to the Chinese Olympic Committee, designed Team China's podium uniforms for Tokyo.

The results of an Olympic "mindshare" brand marketing survey just released by a leading research institution show Anta in the lead over other brands, with a 40 percent share among customers.

In the first half of this year, Anta launched a new brand concept inspired by the Olympics. The company said it has frequently interacted with consumers on national mainstream media and social network platforms, winning more than 10 billion brand views.

Working with the Chinese Olympic Committee for 16 years, Anta has invested more than 3 billion yuan ($460 million) in the research and development of sportswear technology and has vowed to add 4 billion yuan to this sector.

Based in Xiamen, Fujian province, the company has provided sportswear products for 28 Chinese teams competing at Olympic Games. It has developed advanced technologies to manufacture equipment for 10 teams representing China, including shoes and a waist support system for weightlifters and super-light shoes for boxers.

This year, it launched "Anta championship experience stores "in key shopping locations, attracting a wide range of consumers, according to the company. Licensed products have been introduced for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing and Zhangjiakou, Hebei province. The items, which feature the Chinese national flag, attract buyers with "medium and high consumption capacity", paving the way for the company to open more such stores.

Revenue boost

Ding Shizhong, chairman of the board of directors and CEO of Anta Group, said the company will continue to focus on sportswear, consolidate research and development, and keep developing a multibrand competitive edge to cater to sports-loving consumers in different market segments and fields.

The group can do this due to government policies promoting national fitness and because of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, Ding said.

The Tokyo Games also boosted revenue and profits for sportswear manufacturer Li Ning Co. According to its interim report for this year, revenue surged by 65 percent in the first six months to 10.1 billion yuan, while net profits rose by 187 percent to 1.96 billion yuan. The brand sponsored the Chinese shooting, diving and table tennis teams.

Zhang said many Chinese sponsors have explored marketing innovation, for example by inviting gold medalists to take part in livestreaming sessions sponsored by brands.

The winners of the Olympics are "natives of the internet"-the athletes who took part and the internet users who volunteered to develop content based on real-time events at the Games, Zhang said.

Marketing major sporting events is now defined as "emotional marketing", as young athletes and the events themselves create emotions that inspire the public and viewers, Zhang said.

Transforming emotions and traffic generated from such events into business and revenue calls for brand teams to accurately locate the market and respond quickly, he added.

Strong momentum in China's sportswear industry is deeply rooted in government policies aimed at promoting national fitness and building a wholesome and healthy society.

Early last month, the State Council, China's Cabinet, unveiled a five-year blueprint for 2021 to 2025, designed for greater public participation in physical exercise. The guideline includes measures to increase the number of sports facilities in communities nationwide.

By 2025, the government is aiming for 38.5 percent of the population to take part regularly in physical exercise-at the end of last year, the proportion was 37.2 percent. According to the plan, the sports sector's market scale in China is expected to reach 5 trillion yuan by 2025.

The government is also aiming to set up more fitness facilities in counties, villages and communities, and for residents to have access to them within a 15-minute journey time.

Lou, from Frost & Sullivan China, said: "In the next five years, the plan looks set to give huge impetus to development of the sports sector industry chain from upstream to downstream, as the level of support is unprecedented in China. Provinces and cities are expected to launch more-specific guidelines and encouragement measures in response to the blueprint.

"China aims to raise the overall physical fitness levels of residents and promote fitness as a habit for the public, instead of just for small groups of professionals. Sports goods manufacturers, gyms and training venues will likely benefit from this trend in the next few years," Lou said.

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