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Poster designed by Chinese artist —new way to attract Chinese fans

By Mark Dreyer 22 Dec 2014

The allure of China's 1.3 billion residents has proved the decisive factor for many businesses thinking of entering the market here - and sports properties are no different.

The NBA is blessed in that it only competes with the CBA for the attention of Chinese basketball fans, while soccer leagues from around the world must try to present themselves as the pick of the bunch to attract discerning Chinese fans.

The task is made easier when China has a stake in the game: Yao Ming in the NBA, for example, or Ding Junhui winning snooker tournaments worldwide have both been important in raising TV viewing figures back home. Germany's Bundesliga has long been popular with Chinese soccer fans, but will get a further bump if Wolfsburg's new Chinese signing, Zhang Xizhe, can establish a regular place in the team. And then we come to tennis.

While it was Li Ting and Sun Tiantian who first put Chinese tennis on the map with women's doubles gold at the 2004 Olympic Games, it was, of course, Li Na who took the sport to a new level with her success in singles, winning the 2011 French Open and the 2014 Australian Open.

The WTA capitalized on that by launching a raft of new tournaments in China, including the Wuhan Open, which debuted this year in Li's hometown. The Australian Open has marketed itself as the only Grand Slam in the entire Asia-Pacific region, at least in part so that Chinese fans consider it their "home" major event.

But the French Open's move last week to release a poster designed by a Chinese artist smacks of desperation. To the uneducated eye, at least, the image has no obvious Chinese elements - the fact that artist Du Zhenjun moved to France 23 years ago may have something to do with that - but the head of the French Tennis Federation was keen to emphasize that the work of art resulted from a "collision of two cultures."

If not a collision, the attempt to keep Chinese fans engaged with Roland Garros now that their main star has retired was certainly jarring. A much better alternative would have been to allocate one wild-card entry slot for the winner of a Chinese, or Asian, playoff tournament.

But although this campaign missed the mark, it's another example of how important China is to the global sports industry - and that is surely good news for Chinese sport in the long run.

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