Tennis anyone?

China Open to get IMG touch

Tennis anyone?

Ace: China's Li Na

Beating Rafael Nadal at tennis on clay is meant to be all but impossible. In fact, the Spaniard hasn’t been beaten on clay at the French Open for four consecutive years.

So does Nadal’s shock defeat to relative unknown Swedish underdog, Robin Soderling, mean his winning formula is broken?

Well it won’t be long before Chinese fans – and there are a lot of them, the country boasts 8.12 million players according to the Chinese Tennis Association – can judge for themselves.  The Spanish tennis player is the headline attraction at the China Open in Beijing in October this year.

The Beijing event has been running for 10 years, but this year’s tournament will be the first organised under a new joint venture agreement between global sports management giant IMG Worldwide and CCTV, the state owned television station.

IMG anticipates that the Open will kick off a 20-year sporting-event partnership with the state broadcaster. “CCTV-IMG will invest media resources worth hundreds of millions of yuan in the China Open to make it one of the most influential world tennis events,” says Jiang Heping, chairman of the new JV. Alongside the men’s event, the attendance of the world’s top 50 female players has been confirmed for the women’s competition.

Thanks to internationally acclaimed female players like Li Na and Zheng Jie (currently ranked world number 15 and 29, respectively), tennis has become increasingly popular among young Chinese today. What was once considered as a pastime for the rich has also become more accessible to aspiring players around the country. In 2007, the state government declared tennis to be a mandatory sport in schools, along with basketball, soccer and table tennis.

IMG currently owns or manages more than 4,000 sporting and entertainment events around the world, including Wimbledon and the Australian Open tennis tournament. It also manages the careers of heavyweights like golfer Tiger Woods and tennis player Roger Federer. And it plans to utilise these assets to develop sports events in China, including plans for polo and sailing in the luxury category, tennis and golf for the white-collar fans, and American football for youngsters, said a spokesman for IMG.

“We see that the sports industry in China will become gigantic – the largest in the world,” says Robert Kuhn, an IMG partner and a representative to the joint venture.

While the partnership is majority-owned by the Chinese broadcaster, IMG will arrange and earn revenue from sponsorships or event merchandise.

CCTV, which boasts a viewership of 740 million daily viewers, already dominates 85% of the Chinese sports TV market.

“CCTV is unique,” reckons IMG’s chairman, Ted Forstmann who told Shanghai Daily of the win-win proposition he sees: “They reach many millions of people; sponsors want to reach millions of people and we can put on the events.”

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