Re-Thinking the Game Plan
Beyer, Matt, The China Business Review
With Chinas sports industry in flux, foreign companie: have more investment opportunities in the sector.
On a steamy afternoon this summer in Beijing, members of the sports press, the old guard of Chinas basketball coaching community, and select high-ranking PRC General Administration of Sport officials bid farewell to Yao Ming, the now-former center who played for the National Basketball Associations (NBA) Houston Rockets, at a granthose retirement ceremony. While Yao was honored for his individual accomplishments, posters emphasizing team spirit and glory for country donned the walls as they have for years. Despite the surroundings, no one questioned that Yao - an international megastar - deserved the attention.
Though Chinese media mourned Yao s departure from the NBA as if basketball in China was dead, the same media outlets were tracking and following the trials and tribulations of the NBA lockout in the United States and its potential opportunities for the Chinese sports industry. Because the NBA lockout will likely delay the upcoming NBA season, foreign companies will have food for thought on how to tap the sports market in China, where there are as many business opportunities as there are challenges.
Professional sports is a highly regulated industry in China, but the PRC government is committed to opening it more to the private sector. The government also aims to expand the industry to improve peoples fitness, provide positive social activity outlets, provide world-class entertainment, and create national champions. Companies that help China use sports to boost physical fitness among youths, create profitable sporting events, and develop elite domestic talent will receive strong government support to help raise sports standards in China.
China's sports system
Yaos retirement has forced Chinas sports regulators to re-evaluate their role, which primarily has been to drive a system that aims to win Olympic gold medals. In China, sports officials and coaches select prospective athletes at a young age and place them into specialized training schools, where they are isolated and focus almost completely on repetition-based training regimens. Outside of this system, few Chinese citizens participate in recreational sports, and spectator-sport culture is generally nationalistic, complemented by entertainment elements surrounding the game.
The current Chinese system dominates in sports such as gymnastics and diving, but it has limited success in team sports, despite many Chinese stars playing professionally in overseas leagues. In basketball, Chinas best performances in the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games earned them eighth place in the world. And the Chinese national soccer team, currently ranked 73 in the world, is an object of derision. PRC Vice President Xi Jinping, who is most likely to become Chinas next president, has identified the reform of Chinese soccer as a top soft power priority.
From a business perspective, the government regards sports as a cultural industry; from a political perspective, the government sees sports as an educational tool. Patriotism is at the core of sports. Even if an elderly Chinese person does not follow track and field, he will cheer for Liu Xiang, one of Chinas top track and field athletes, because Liu has been lifted up as a national hero for his 2004 Athens gold medal. In contrast to the Chinese entertainment industries (particularly film in recent years) that have gained significant private funding and international attention, Chinese domestic sports are playing catch-up.
Exceptions exist, however, such as professional tennis player Li Na - Nike, Inc. s current gold mine in China, who until recently was the domestic sports industry's persona non grata. The tattooed legend-inthe-making fought for the right to choose her own coach and practice away from official sports authorities. This caused many in the system to ostracize …
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Publication information: Article title: Re-Thinking the Game Plan. Contributors: Beyer, Matt - Author. Magazine title: The China Business Review. Volume: 38. Issue: 4 Publication date: October-December 2011. Page number: 38+. © U.S.-China Business Council Mar/Apr 2009. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.