Let the games begin…

Chinese brands eye sponsorship opportunities for London’s Olympics

Let the games begin…

London calling: synchronised swimmers Jiang Wenwen and Jiang Tingting are among China’s medal hopes

Eleven companies have signed up to become top tier worldwide sponsors of the London Olympics and, notably, there isn’t a single Chinese corporate among them. That’s unlike in 2008 when Lenovo spent more than $80 million to feature as a worldwide sponsor – it also provided IT services in Beijing and even designed the Olympic torch carried on the controversial relay around the world before the Games began.

Beneath the top group of sponsors for 2012, London has 7 official ‘partners’, a further 7 official ‘supporters’ and a larger group of event-wide ‘suppliers and providers’. But again, no Chinese company features on these lists either.

In fact, the Chinese firms that are present in London will be much further down the pecking order: names like DHS (Double Happiness Sports), which will supply the table tennis tables, and Tinsue, installer of the table tennis flooring.

That’s news that might quicken a few pulses among ping-pong fans and flooring specialists. But the absence of bigger China names among the top sponsors is more of a surprise, with so much talk of its top brands wanting to bolster their reputations globally.

Why not more of a Chinese presence? Maybe its because many marketers now question the return on Olympic spend, with so many different sponsors involved. Also, Chinese companies seem to be concentrating more of their resources on Olympic deals closer to home, inking agreements with the national Olympic Organising Committee, the various sports governing bodies and the many teams and individual athletes.

Sportswear brands are leading the pack, with ANTA Sports having invested a record Rmb600 million ($94.7 million) in a four-year deal in 2009 with the Chinese Olympic Committee for its athletes to wear its gear. (ANTA won the bid from Adidas, which outfitted the Chinese team in 2008. Athletes are generally free to select their own kit for competition but will then change into an official outfit if they make the medals podium, or are attending official ceremonies.)

ANTA competes with sports apparel firm Li Ning, a name less well known overseas until the opening ceremony in 2008 when its founder ran the perimeter of the stadium roof, before lighting the Olympic flame.

Li’s show-stopping performance is now regarded as a classic piece of ambush marketing, getting his eponymously named brand out in front of a television audience of billions. Official sponsor Adidas must have been less impressed, wondering quite how Li had managed to talk his way up onto the roof (Li was wearing our kit, Adidas bosses pointed out, although few paid that much attention).

In fact Li was lucky (for more on his career as China’s ‘prince of gymnastics’ and Olympic gold medal winner, see WiC17). Olympic organisers were on the whole zealous in cracking down on unauthorised ads at Olympic venues in Beijing and the city authorities extended the ban to all outdoor advertising in the capital’s airports, buses and city centre. The China Advertising Association also made an unprecedented effort to block the country’s athletes from endorsing non-sponsors during the Games (although exemptions were granted, including the hugely successful Nike ads featuring China’s top athlete at the time, hurdler Liu Xiang).

What with China’s generally lax reputation for protecting intellectual property rights, many were taken aback by the sudden enthusiasm for enforcement over the Olympic period.

But for 2012, other Chinese sportswear brands have been looking for a different sponsorship route to London. Peak Sport is the model here, having sponsored Iraq, Cyprus and Lebanon in the 2008 Beijing Olympiad, and claimed a sales spike in Middle Eastern markets as a result. This time around Peak will supply the New Zealand Olympic team as part of a push into the Australasian market. Rival brand ERKE is doing something similar by teaming up with the Olympic Committees of South Africa, Iran and Uzbekistan.

How about the wider, Chinese public’s interest in London 2012? The nation’s attention is bound to be less rapt than in 2008, says the Economic Observer. In part, that’s because of the eight-hour time difference for the television audience. But mostly it will be impossible to repeat the feeling of pride and excitement that swept China as host country in 2008.

Four years ago much of the country was transfixed by the performance of the Chinese athletes and especially the medal race with the United States (for the record, China won more golds but the US won more medals in total). But this year, the public mood will be more subdued, Zhang Qing, president of Key Sports Marketing Agency suggested to EO.

That’s a good thing, Zhang thought, as it will mean a viewing audience a little less focused on national victory and more on enjoying the spirit of the Games.

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