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Sports investment in China will pay off

By Global Times-Mark Dreyer 15 Jun 2015

It's an exciting time for the sports industry in China.

While the country is still searching for its next wave of global stars, now that Yao Ming, Li Na and Liu Xiang have retired, China has never been more central to the wider world of sports.

Just last week, there were reports that a Chinese consortium might have the inside track when it comes to buying English Premier League club Aston Villa, a team not in the same bracket as ­Manchester United or Chelsea, but an established top-flight club ­nonetheless.

While that particular deal may well come to nothing, the fact that Chinese companies and entrepreneurs are ­regularly cited in these sorts of reports shows how central Chinese investment has become to the global sports industry.

Through Huawei's sponsorship of more than a dozen sports teams around the world to stakes by Wanda and United Vansen in European soccer clubs, Chinese money continues to head overseas, but increasingly it's a two-way street.

The Women's Tennis Association, aiming to capitalize on China's surge in tennis that landed in its lap thanks to Li Na's success, has announced that a record nine ­tournaments will be held in China in 2016, up from just two in 2012.

Similarly, Nike's new deal eight-year deal with the NBA reportedly had much to do with the Chinese market, where ­basketball competes with ­soccer for top spot in the popularity rankings. 

Given the fact that several European soccer leagues vie with each other for attention from Chinese fans, while the NBA stands head and shoulders above its sole competitor the CBA, it is clear that the NBA is the most watched sports league in China.

No surprise, then, that Nike's Asia Pacific Team Camp, which aims to promote and train elite basketball talent, is taking place in Nanjing this week. 

Joining Shabazz Muhammad of the Minnesota Timberwolves and former NBA player Brian Cardinal, who won the NBA Championships with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011, will be an ­assortment of NBA-level ­coaches to put 40 top players through their paces. 

While it is unlikely they will transform top Chinese ­prospects into a team of Yao Mings overnight, the continuing, long-term investment by foreign sports properties in China highlights the importance of this market.

And when the next wave of stars emerge from China - as they surely will - only those who have been smart enough to lay the proper groundwork in China will be ready to capitalize.

Tags: China
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