Cash­ing in on fan cul­ture

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS -

Sport may be en­joy­ing an un­prece­dented boom in China, but the coun­try’s grow­ing fan bases still rep­re­sent an un­tapped gold mine for clubs, cities and re­gions, ac­cord­ing to in­dus­try in­sid­ers.

“Fan cul­ture and mer­chan­dise de­vel­op­ment could be a ma­jor source of in­come for the sports in­dus­try,” Eric Gao, CEO of iRENA, China’s lead­ing sports in­dus­try plat­form com­pany, said at the re­cent Fan Cul­ture and Mer­chan­dise De­vel­op­ment Fo­rum in Bei­jing.

“We’re not just talk­ing about cul­tural icons, but busi­ness po­ten­tials in gen­eral. Fan cul­ture around sports can be cities’ call­ing cards.”

Founded in 2001, iRENA Group spe­cial­izes in fan cul­ture and mer­chan­dise, de­vel­op­ing lo­gos and mas­cots for many teams.

It is also a long-term part­ner of ma­jor teams in China, in­clud­ing the na­tional soc­cer and vol­ley­ball sides, and bas­ket­ball’s vis­it­ing NBA In­ter­na­tional Se­ries. Gao reck­ons NBA China could earn mil­lions of dol­lars by de­vel­op­ing li­censed mer­chan­dise.

The global li­censed sports mer­chan­dise mar­ket will be worth $48 bil­lion by 2024, al­most dou­ble its value from 2015, ac­cord­ing to fore­cast­ing firm Trans­parency Mar­ket Re­search.

The United States and Canada ac­count for over half the mar­ket’s rev­enues thanks to the pop­u­lar­ity of Ma­jor League Base­ball, the Na­tional Foot­ball League, the Na­tional Bas­ket­ball As­so­ci­a­tion and the Na­tional Hockey League, which con­tinue to ex­pand their fan bases.

How­ever, in Asia-Pa­cific coun­tries such as China the num­bers are com­par­a­tively small, with iRENA see­ing mas­sive po­ten­tial in soc­cer clubs like Bei­jing Guo’an.

“We are ac­tu­ally de­vel­op­ing su­per in­tel­lec­tual prop­er­ties,” said Elsie ViVi, deputy gen­eral man­ager of iRENA’s North China Op­er­a­tion Di­vi­sion.

“The con­sumers are chang­ing. We used to fo­cus on brand-build­ing, but now what we have to do is to de­velop in­tel­lec­tual prop­er­ties. The dif­fer­ence is that we have to cre­ate sus­tain­able con­tent for the fu­ture.”

In lay­man’s terms, that means telling and sell­ing bet­ter sto­ries.

“It is im­por­tant to tell sto­ries to hu­man­ize the mer­chan­dises,” said ViVi.

“Take Bei­jing Guo’an’s lion mas­cot as an ex­am­ple. We re­designed the lion into a more hu­man­ized car­toon char­ac­ter to at­tract young peo­ple and chil­dren.

“Af­ter the team suf­fered a dev­as­tat­ing de­feat one day, the fans were ir­ri­tated. So, we made the lion into a sad fan who re­fuses to aban­don the team and posted the pic­tures on so­cial me­dia in or­der to ask for more sup­port from fans. It worked.”

Re­spected sports jour­nal­ist Yuan Ye agrees the strat­egy is clever.

“The keys to de­vel­op­ing mer­chan­dise are fol­low­ing the trend­ing top­ics, adding emo­tional el­e­ments and telling touch­ing sto­ries,” he said.

Added Gao: “We want to cre­ate a sense of be­long­ing for fans.

“Through de­vel­op­ing fan cul­tures and mer­chan­dise, we want fans to be proud of their own teams and cities.”

Through de­vel­op­ing fan cul­tures and mer­chan­dises, we want fans to be proud of their own teams and cities.” Eric Gao, CEO of iRENA


Fans of Bei­jing Guo’an are decked out in the club’s col­ors at the re­cent Fan Cul­ture and Mer­chan­dise De­vel­op­ment Fo­rum.


Com­pared to other na­tions, fan cul­ture is still in its early pe­riod of de­vel­op­ment in China.


China’s na­tional soc­cer team is a pop­u­lar draw for mer­chan­dise.

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