By Matt Scott
September 23 – The strength of the Chinese sports industry has been underlined with an investment valuing the largest foreign-owned sports-marketing agency at $45 million.
WePiao, the owner of China’s WhatsApp equivalent WeChat, and WeSai, an independent sports-ticketing spin-off from WePiao have spent $15 million buying 35% of sports marketers Mailman. It means the firm’s key investors now include Manchester City’s minority-owner China Media Capital and Atlético Madrid’s part-owner Wanda Group.
The investment will see Mailman launch a recruitment drive, buy sports rights and look for acquisitions of its own. Mailman’s place in the Chinese sports industry has been built on strong partnerships with European football clubs, arranging Asian tours and providing digital-media support services.
Mailman’s Shanghai-based Australian CEO, Andrew Collins, who bought the company in 2007, told Insideworldfootball: “Our clients include Liverpool, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, the Bundesliga, AC Milan, Borussia Dortmund, UFC and GoPro.
“For digital we had three of the four brands in the International Champions Cup. We have done about six tours in China since the first one with Liverpool in 2011 and we are real practitioners at this. We look at the clubs and leagues we work with as partners, not as clients.
“Throughout we provide output across all social media and press releases through to engaging with fans over sports portals, and video platforms and we sell sponsorship in the media and corporate side. We provide innovative opportunities and make it easier for our partners to get a commercial return. We help them navigate China’s administrative channels too, which can be quite complex.”
Collins believes that despite the recent focus on the Chinese domestic-football market, not least in the central government’s Football Reform and Development Plan, China will continue to be fertile territory for European clubs heading east.
“The opportunities in China for sports clubs are endless,” said Collins. “There is more investment in football training and more expertise in football, educating parents, and it means the appetite for sports content is growing massively.
“In 2015/16 there was $2 billion of investment in football clubs overseas. There was RMB11 billion ($1.65 billion) spent on sports rights in the first half of 2016 – just in the first 6 months it was already three times what it had been the previous year.
“The entry point for (European) clubs is through digital. We launched Liverpool as the first Premier League club in China in 2011. Now 70% of them are here, although some are bigger than others. They are learning how to engage with fans here.
“Selling sponsorship is big and media rights is big. We have recently brokered a big deal for Liverpool around their digital content, becoming the first European club to do so…the teams all have the opportunity to come on tour every three or four years out here.”
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