China's digital portals ready to invest in winter sports rights ahead of Beijing 2022

China's fast-growing digital platforms are ready to compete aggressively to land media rights in the country to winter sports in the lead-up to the 2022 winter Olympic Games in Beijing, albeit not all are convinced the demand for content exists.

Beijing was awarded the 2022 Olympics last July, beating off competition from Almaty, Kazakhstan, and during the bid phase, Liu Yandong, the vice-premier of China, championed the growth of snow and ice sports in the country, telling International Olympic Committee members: "Winter sports have become increasingly popular among Chinese people. Hosting the 2022 games will encourage 300 million Chinese to participate in ice and snow sports."

Echo Yang, deputy director of business development and cooperation at Tencent, the Chinese internet company that operates the QQ Sports portal, argues that with the winter Olympics on the horizon and China's middle class continuing to grow in number, winter sports' media rights will become heavily sought-after.

In an interview with Sportcal at the Sportel Asia convention in Singapore yesterday, Yang said: "Basketball and football are definitely the top two sports in China, but winter sports is a very interesting market for us, especially with the 2022 winter Olympics coming to Beijing. That is a great incentive for the market to grow.

"The winter Olympics sports are for the richer middle class, and now as we see China’s economy developing, and people earning more money, they would like to try to get into winter sports. Its much more than sport, it’s a lifestyle, so we think there will be growth. This will be a big market."

Sam Li, head of content acquisition at Sina Sports, the sports subsidiary of Chinese internet giant Sina, is in agreement that interest is growing.

Sina Sports recently struck a deal with the W sportsmedia agency to show coverage of the Visma Ski Classics, the Europe-based long-distance cross-country skiing series, in China.

Speaking on a panel session at Sportel, Li said: "We are interested in working with all rights holders who are interested in the Chinese market, and there is now huge growth potential for winter sports, and huge expectations as well... Obviously there is not a huge market for it right now but that is the reason why they give Beijing seven years to build [to 2022] and we hope to build the rights portfolio going forward."

Soon after Beijing was awarded the 2022 Olympics, LeSports, the fast-growing Chinese digital sports company, announced a strategic partnership with Heilongjiang Province, in the north east of the country, covering promotion of snow and ice sports on its channels, as well as the establishment of tourism and training services in the province.

However, Yu Hang, vice-president of strategy at LeSports, does not believe there will be an immediate impact.

He said: "The winter games in Beijing is definitely a huge incentive for those properties. But considering the foundation of the fanbase, I don’t see a huge increase in those rights now. We have also been talking with federations and agencies regarding those properties, but at present we don’t see that trend."

CCTV, the Chinese state broadcaster, holds Olympics rights up to and including the 2024 summer games. The most recent deal, covering four games from 2018, is understood to be worth $550 million, with three successive games in favourable Asian time zones (PyeongChang 2018, Tokyo 2020 and Beijing 2022), responsible for the price increase.

In 2012, CCTV acquired the rights to the 2014 winter Olympics in Sochi and the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in a deal worth $160 million.

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