In the wake of “Linsanity” (or Lin fengkuang) and Li Na’s continued ascent to the top of women’s tennis, China’s attention to sports has increased sharply. The international prominence of these athletes is changing the often self-imposed stereotype that China’s athletic success is limited to individual, Olympic-style athletic competition and has raised questions about the merits of China’s institutionalized, drill-oriented sports training system.
(In fact, had Jeremy Lin grown up in mainland China, he would most likely not have been selected to attend one of China’s basketball development facilities given that his height of 6’3’’ falls well short of the preferred height of 6’6’’.)
More and more young Chinese, inspired by the success of these ethnically Chinese sports superstars, are picking up basketballs, tennis racquets, and a host of other sports equipment as foreign leagues continue to compete to win the attention of 1.3 billion potential athletes and fans. This increased demand, coupled with the shift in perception of China’s ability to compete in sports outside the Olympics, badminton, and ping-pong has raised the hopes of foreign athletic apparel companies.
Looking to take advantage of this change in consumer preferences, Nike – which has been in the country for over 30 years – has released a series of web videos targeting female consumers. The brief advertisements feature female college athletes talking about their dreams to become professional athletes, dancers, and yoga instructors.
Nike hopes that this appeal to female athletes will continue to encourage women to participate in sports at all levels, and of course, buy the top-of-the-line Nike apparel associated with these activities. Companies like Nike are in a challenging position. In order to sell their products, they first need to create demand. That means selling the activity associated with their products. With the help of successful Chinese athletes, this task is a little less daunting than it once was.
Even companies in non-sports related industries are utilizing the success of ethnically Chinese athletes. L’Oreal, the second largest cosmetics company in China behind Procter & Gamble, became the official sponsor of the Shanghai Rolex Masters Tennis Tournament in 2011. The tournament was watched by over 10 million people in China, giving L’Oreal an incredibly popular advertising platform
As sports continue to gain ground in China, at the urging of companies like Nike and thanks to star athletes, expect more attention to Chinese sports leagues and greater participation among athletes at all levels. This creates opportunities for companies of all sizes, sports related and non-sports related alike, looking to tap into the rapidly growing Chinese market.