China Consumer, Sport

Taking over Tokyo

Chinese firms dominate Olympic sponsorships


The sponsor’s baijiu awaits...

The Olympics makes much of its income from consumer brands that want to sponsor the world’s biggest sporting event.

But with the Games in Tokyo already delayed a year and also very unpopular with local people worried about the spread of Covid-19, many of the Japanese advertisers have scaled back their commitments or pulled out entirely.

Panasonic, a top sponsor, decided against sending its chief executive to the opening ceremony last Friday. Carmaker Toyota has also been concerned about the public backlash, abandoning its plans to run Olympic-themed TV commercials in Japan.

Chinese firms have embraced the Olympics rather more energetically, still seeing the Games as a great opportunity to reach consumers from around the world.

“Chinese companies have been eyeing the business opportunity excitedly. From broadcasters, brand sponsors to agents, everyone has fully embraced the Olympics. Up until the night before it started, domestic companies were looking for ways to market themselves during the Games,” reports Insight, a business news site. “After all, the Olympics is the best stage for brands to tell stories; nobody wants to miss a single opportunity.”

China’s largest sportswear maker Anta, for instance, has been high profile in Tokyo. The company is sponsoring the podium uniforms worn by the nation’s winning athletes (they’re dubbed “Champion Dragon Clothes”), as well as designing the sportswear for 28 of the Chinese national teams.

Alibaba meanwhile is one of the Olympics 15 global partners – along with Coca-Cola, General Electric and Intel – in the highest level of sponsorship that allows it to use the highly coveted Olympic symbol. Needless to say, the e-commerce giant capitalised on the opportunity by launching a series of e-commerce livestreams on Taobao Live with the five interlocking rings as a backdrop.

Internet giants like Tencent and Kuaishou have purchased the online streaming rights to the Games from state-run broadcaster CCTV, which owns China’s overall licence for the Tokyo Olympics. Tencent has churned out other Olympic-related content, including a series that looks back at some of the gold medal winners over the last century. Social media platforms like Douyin, Xiaohongshu and Sina Weibo have also struck exclusive content agreements with athletes and teams to try to tap into the popularity of the Olympiad.

This year saw a number of new brand sponsorships. For instance, skincare brand Kans has signed up as official sponsor for China’s swimming team (see WiC550). Smartphone maker Vivo has the same role for China’s female volleyball team, while its sub-brand iQOO has signed a deal with the national rowing and kayaking teams.

The diving team has a contract with search giant Baidu and the national table tennis team is promoting, a travel platform.

Even baijiu maker Luzhou Laojiao has managed to strike a deal with Chinese Olympic bosses: bottles of its heady booze (more than 50% proof) are the official ‘celebration wine’ for the team’s athletes.

But Chinese sportswear label Li Ning is one of the more glaring absentees at the Games (even though its eponymous founder is one of the most famous Chinese Olympians after winning three golds in Los Angeles in 1984).

The reason turns out to be political. Li Ning signed a deal to kit out the Indian athletes in Tokyo but was dumped as the official provider only six days after unveiling the uniform in June, following complaints from the Indian public.

The Indian Olympic Association said it had severed ties with the Chinese sportswear firm out of respect for the “sentiments of the people of the country” in a context in which many Indians are still furious about the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers killed in a clash with Chinese forces in a Himalayan border dispute last year.

Similar sentiment pressured the Indian cricket authorities to suspend a sponsorship deal with Vivo last year, although the Chinese smartphone firm has returned as the title sponsor this year.

© ChinTell Ltd. All rights reserved.

Sponsored by HSBC.

The Week in China website and the weekly magazine publications are owned and maintained by ChinTell Limited, Hong Kong. Neither HSBC nor any member of the HSBC group of companies ("HSBC") endorses the contents and/or is involved in selecting, creating or editing the contents of the Week in China website or the Week in China magazine. The views expressed in these publications are solely the views of ChinTell Limited and do not necessarily reflect the views or investment ideas of HSBC. No responsibility will therefore be assumed by HSBC for the contents of these publications or for the errors or omissions therein.