All Roads Lead to China… Or Do They?

With the upcoming Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, a Rugby World Cup in Japan in 2019, and the Summer 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, it’s perhaps more accurate to say ‘All Roads Lead to Asia.’

Given an overall population of over 4.4 billion people (almost 60% of the world’s total) and three of the worlds largest economies (China at number two, followed by Japan at three and India at seven), it’s not surprising the world of sport is gravitating to these markets. Given this (and as Foxrock Partners has done with Sports Business Innovation presented by Turner Sports at CES), Foxrock was fortunate to again bring together industry experts to discuss trends and emerging opportunities as part of the recently completed CES Asia (Shanghai). Among others, topics ranged from the ways established businesses like the NBA evolve their content distribution and grassroots engagement strategies, to emerging properties like eSports, and new business opportunities triggered by global properties such as Rugby World Cup and the Olympics.

Featured speakers for the Tech Disruption in Sports panel included David Shoemaker – CEO of NBA China, Deborah Mei – Partner & Co-Founder of The Raine Group, Lixin Cheng – CEO of Mobile Devices at ZTE, and Michael Ma – CEO of WME | IMG China.

When will China host a World Cup; what is an accurate projection of the eventual size of the eSports market; how quickly China will realize its stated goal of becoming the largest sports market in the world (depending on who you believe, projections range from $750 billion to $850 billion by a target of 2025). Regardless, discussions were lively.

One need to not look far for evidence of the continued growth: China Media Capital’s $400 million investment in City Football, Wanda’s investments (Atletico Madrid) and acquisitions (Ironman and Infront), Alibaba’s creation of Alisports, and LeSports’ continued acquisition of media rights spanning the globe along with the growth and influence of other Asian-based properties (e.g., Indian Premier League).

Meanwhile, Western and European-based properties continue to evolve their strategies, with the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks playing exhibition games in Shanghai this September, Chelsea, Bayern and FC Internazionale staging games in Singapore this summer and the biennial Premier League Asia Trophy to be hosted next month in Hong Kong.

One thing is certain: global sports properties are increasingly active in building their strategies for Asia. Time will tell what brands and businesses break through and whether it’s all roads that lead to Asia or just many more than in recent memory.