Keep­ing fit means healthy prof­its

China Daily European Weekly - - Front Page - By SUN YUANQING sun­yuan­qing@chi­nadaily.com.cn

When Brazil­ian Ney­mar made head­lines re­cently af­ter be­com­ing the world’s most ex­pen­sive soc­cer player, in a trans­ac­tion worth 222 mil­lion eu­ros ($265 mil­lion; £205 mil­lion), it high­lighted once again that, when all is said and done, big sports are big busi­ness.

Even if Ney­mar’s soc­cer skills are be­yond doubt, that huge amount es­sen­tially re­flects the value put on him as a mar­ket­ing tool.

In a highly pop­u­lar re­cent TV drama in China, The First Half of My Life, Tang Jing, who played one of the show’s hero­ines, helped forge her on-screen per­sona by be­ing por­trayed fol­low­ing a daily fit­ness rou­tine wear­ing a pop­u­lar brand of sportswear.

While Ney­mar and oth­ers in top league com­pet­i­tive sports grab head­lines be­cause of the huge sums of money they com­mand, it is the likes of Tang who are the front-line mar­ke­teers as multi­na­tional cor­po­ra­tions fight for the huge rev­enues at stake in the world of sports and per­sonal fit­ness.

In this cam­paign — which is so per­va­sive it is hard to es­cape if you read news­pa­pers or mag­a­zines, watch films or TV or spend a lot of time on the in­ter­net — their mis­sion is to con­vey the mes­sage that be­ing fit and be­ing trim is not only good for your health, but is also cool and is a mark of suc­cess.

At stake in China is a per­sonal fit­ness mar­ket that the mar­ket­ing con­sul­tancy Euromon­i­tor reck­ons has

al­most dou­bled over the past five years. The value of sales of sports cloth­ing alone was 187 bil­lion yuan ($28.2 bil­lion) last year, 11 per­cent higher than the year be­fore, it says. China’s na­tional fit­ness plan, ad­min­is­tered by the State Coun­cil, fore­casts that by 2020, spend­ing re­lated to sports will be worth 3 tril­lion yuan, mak­ing it a ma­jor new driver for do­mes­tic con­sump­tion. In­deed, China is one of the fastest-grow­ing mar­kets for in­ter­na­tional brands such as Nike, Adi­das and Puma, whose prof­its are swelling as more peo­ple en­gage in sports. Adi­das held an event called Repub­lic of Sports in Bei­jing re­cently, in which hun­dreds of peo­ple took part in the na­tional fit­ness cam­paign. An in­door venue has been put up to pro­vide sports and fit­ness ex­pe­ri­ence for vis­i­tors. “We have the am­bi­tion to be­come the num­ber one sports brand in the world and in China,” says Marc Le Roux, vice-pres­i­dent of sports per­for­mance for Adi­das China. “If we want to achieve this goal, we need to en­gage peo­ple to do sports with us. It’s not only about ad­ver­tis­ing and spon­sor­ing the big teams; it’s also about pro­vid­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for ev­ery­day peo­ple to en­gage in sports and ex­cit­ing sport­ing ac­tiv­i­ties. “The sports cul­ture is re­ally grow­ing in China, and as a lead­ing sports brand, we want to be at the fore­front of the devel­op­ment of this cul­ture. That’s why we are cre­at­ing the big­gest sports ac­ti­va­tion that has ever been de­liv­ered by a sports brand in China.” More than 100,000 peo­ple took part in sports ac­tiv­i­ties with the brand within six weeks re­cently in Bei­jing, Shang­hai, Chengdu and Guangzhou. The pas­sion for sports has de­vel­oped rapidly in the coun­try over the past few years, Le Roux says. “Wher­ever I travel, in places like Shenyang, Kun­ming, Chengdu, Guangzhou or Bei­jing, I see that ev­ery­where the pas­sion and love for sports is grow­ing im­mensely. We see more peo­ple run­ning in the streets, go­ing to the gym, and we see an amaz­ing in­ter­est in foot­ball. “I be­lieve this is only the start. China has great peo­ple and a great cul­ture, which is very com­pet­i­tive. I be­lieve with the right level of cre­ativ­ity, this na­tion will be­come a lead­ing sport­ing na­tion. This is why we pro­mote cre­ativ­ity in sports, be­cause we think this will make a dif­fer­ence in the fu­ture for Chi­nese ath­letes.” It is im­por­tant to make these ac­tiv­i­ties at­trac­tive so the in­ter­est they stir in peo­ple is not just a flash in the pan, he says. “For peo­ple that start prac­tic­ing sports, cre­ativ­ity is very im­por­tant. We know that if we do sports, if we swim, if we run, it can be bor­ing at times be­cause it’s very repet­i­tive. If you don’t bring a bit of cre­ativ­ity, you will lose in­ter­est, so by adding cre­ativ­ity in the sports you prac­tice, you keep the in­ter­est go­ing and it pushes you to the next level.” Ex­pe­ri­en­tial mar­ket­ing has be­come more sig­nif­i­cant for all brands. Only 10 years af­ter the South Korean sports brand Kolon Sports en­tered the Chi­nese mar­ket, it has 230 stores in China. The com­pany, which founded a hik­ing school to cater to the ris­ing num­ber of out­door en­thu­si­asts, fo­cuses on sports jack­ets, says Park Chang Yong, Kolon’s vice-pres­i­dent.

New en­trants

While Nike and Adi­das re­main the most pop­u­lar sports brand in China, new brands are also do­ing well. Since the US brand Un­der Ar­mour en­tered the China mar­ket in 2011, it has en­joyed huge, con­sis­tent growth, its sales fig­ures more than dou­bling ev­ery year, it says. It now has 179 new stores in 19 new cities and says it ex­pects this to in­crease to 473 stores in 79 cities by the end of this year. It re­cently opened the Hangzhou Kerry Cen­ter store, its big­gest brand house in China. The la­bel is now cap­i­tal­iz­ing on tremen­dous op­por­tu­ni­ties in e-com­merce. In ad­di­tion to of­fi­cial on­line shops on the main­land and in Hong Kong and Tai­wan, it has opened stores on TMall.com and JD.com.

“We’re happy to see that more and more con­sumers are mak­ing sports and fit­ness an es­sen­tial part of their lives,” says Erick Haskell, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Un­der Ar­mour Greater China and Korea.

“The con­sumer un­der­stands that dif­fer­ent sports and ac­tiv­i­ties re­quire dif­fer­ent, spe­cific gear, and their buy­ing trends re­flect that new knowl­edge.

“Chi­nese con­sumers, while in­ter­ested in the per­for­mance ben­e­fits of spe­cific prod­ucts, are also very fo­cused on the de­sign, style and fit of a spe­cific prod­uct. There­fore, our goal is to mar­ket these as­pects of the prod­uct promi­nently through both our in-store and on­line shop­ping ex­pe­ri­ence. We’ve been op­ti­miz­ing our prod­ucts and shop­ping ex­pe­ri­ence in com­pli­ance with the de­mands and pref­er­ences of lo­cal con­sumers.”

Opin­ion lead­ers

Shop­pers are now greatly swayed by so­cial me­dia, so-called key opin­ion lead­ers and young celebri­ties, and the brands are tak­ing full ad­van­tage of their own so­cial me­dia ac­counts, as well as those of ath­letes, in­flu­encers, artists and key opin­ion lead­ers, he says.

“In ad­di­tion to build­ing highly tech­ni­cal gear, we fo­cus on con­sumer touch points such as grass­roots events and so­cial me­dia to com­mu­ni­cate di­rectly with our core con­sumers.”

The brand also pro­vides cus­tomers with the chance to in­ter­act with top sports­men and sportswomen with events such as the Stephen Curry Tour, the 2016 Michael Phelps China Tour and the 2017 Tom Brady China Tour.

Kolon Sports has signed Tang Wei and Song Joong Ki as brand rep­re­sen­ta­tives to reach out to the young gen­er­a­tion. The brand is also look­ing for col­lab­o­ra­tion with de­sign­ers.

Puma has worked with the singer Rihanna, and in­dus­try ob­servers say she has added zest to the brand. Its col­lec­tion Fenty X Puma, whose mar­ket­ing the singer was closely as­so­ci­ated with, has be­come one of the most sought-af­ter on the mar­ket.

Wear­able de­vices have be­come sales win­ners for in­ter­na­tional brands, too. Last year, Nike put on the mar­ket its Hyper Adapt Trainer 1.0, billed as the first shoes that can tie them­selves. Puma also has its own self-lac­ing sports shoes, called Au­todisc, and De­cathlon has de­vel­oped sports un­der­wear that can de­tect the wearer’s heart­beat.

"I see that ev­ery­where the pas­sion and love for sports grow­ing im­mensely. We see more peo­ple run­ning in the streets, go­ing to the gym, and we see an amaz­ing in­ter­est in foot­ball.”

MARC LE ROUX, VP of Sports Per­for­mance, Adi­das China

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

By 2020 China’s spend­ing re­lated to sports is fore­cast to be worth 3 tril­lion yuan.

More than 100,000 peo­ple took part in an Adi­das event called Repub­lic of Sports within six weeks across Bei­jing, Shang­hai, Chengdu and Guangzhou re­cently.

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