China's Alibaba seeks sporting gold

  • TECH
  • Friday, 05 Feb 2016

Sports focus: Alibaba launched Alisports in September to develop the sporting economy.

BEIJING: Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba is looking to turn its hundreds of millions of users into sportsmen as it seeks to cash in on the country's growing sporting market, an executive said.

The comments by Zhang Dazhong, chief executive of its Alisports unit, come as Chinese football clubs rank second only to English in spending during the winter transfer window and President Xi Jinping harbours dreams of winning a World Cup, and with the country set to host the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Alibaba, which owns a 38% stake in Asian football champions Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao, launched Alisports in Sept to develop the sporting economy in "an innovative way with digital thinking", according to its website.

"Alibaba would like to convert their nearly 500 million people or users into sportsmen and to utilise its strengths to help them," Zhang told Hong Kong's South China Morning Post newspaper.

"Consumption power in China is huge and gigantic – the consumption of sport is about to burst in China," he said.

Alibaba in December agreed to buy the English-language newspaper in Hong Kong for US$266mil (RM1bil).

In the months since its establishment, Alisports has signed deals to stream NFL American football games in China, sponsor FIFA's Club World Cup, and partnerships with both world amateur boxing body AIBA and the governing organisation for basketball FIBA.

Zhang also met with football agent Jorge Mendes and his client, former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, in Shanghai last month to discuss partnerships, the SCMP said.

The Chinese government said in 2014 that it aimed to grow the country's sports market to more than 5tril yuan (RM3.1tril) by 2025 to become "a vital driver for sustainable economic and social development".

Many Chinese companies are seeking to ride the wave, with high-profile deals including property behemoth Wanda's acquisition of Swiss sports marketing group Infront and a share of Spanish football club Atletico Madrid, as well a consortium led by state-backed China Media Capital buying a US$400mil (RM1.6bil) stake in Premier League giants Manchester City.

But Zhang told the SCMP that Alisports would prefer to sponsor a big league as a whole: “It’s not our direction to buy a club or team, but to create a platform for clubs and teams."

Alibaba's sports drive can help modernise the industry in China and fulfill Xi's hopes for the country to qualify for a World Cup, host one and win one, he added.

"I believe the World Cup will definitely come to China sooner or later. With the emergence of Alisport (that) dream... will come even earlier," the paper quoted him as saying. —  AFP Relaxnews
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